The ‘Solar Bomb’ explosion

P. Sreekumaran

It is well and truly the moment of truth for the Congress in Kerala. The party is literally gasping for political life with the submission in the Assembly of the Solar Judicial Commission Report.
The report, which contains damning revelations against top Congress leaders, including former chief minister Oommen Chandy, will have far-reaching implications for the future of the Congress in Kerala’s bipolar politics.
First the details of the commission’s findings. The Pinarayi Vijayan Government, which tabled the report in the Assembly, has ordered an investigation against Oommen Chandy, his close confidants, cabinet colleagues, and top United democratic front (UDF) leaders, whose names figure in the Commission’s report.
Ironically, the Commission was set up by the Oommen Chandy Government. Its task was to probe allegations that Chandy, his office and cabinet colleagues had helped the prime accused in the solar scam, Saritha Nair and Biju Radhakrishnan, who ran the Kochi-based Team Solar Renewable Energy Solutions Pvt. Ltd., amass money by duping many people with the promise to set up solar power projects.
The Chief Minister, who presented the report, said the Commission had found the allegations against Chandy and others to be valid. The CM has sought further investigation into the allegations that Chandy and others had also extracted sexual gratification from Saritha. Sexual favours, the Commission said, come under the ambit of illegal gratification pointed out in the Prevention of Corruption Act. In her letter to the Commission, Saritha had named top leaders who sexually exploited her. Among them were Oommen Chandy himself, former ministers Aryadan Mohammed, AP Anil Kumar, Adoor Prakash, Congress MLAs, AP Abdulla Kutty and Hibi Eden, besides Congress MP KC Venugoal and Kerala Congress(M) MP Jose K. Mani. Former Union Minister of state SS Palanimanickyam and a few top Kerala police officers also figure in the list.
The Commission also found that there was proof of Chandy having accepted a Rs 2.16 crore bribe from Saritha. Chandy’s claim that he did not know Saritha before her arrest was also wrong as the Commission confronted him with evidence of his having met her thrice. It also disproved Chandy’s contention that the scam did not cost the exchequer at all. The money spent on the Commission – Rs seven crore – was a drain on the state exchequer.
The only relief for Chandy and Co is the LDF Government’s decision not to file cases against him and others immediately contrary to the CM’s earlier stance that cases would be registered against Chandy and others. The Advocate General and the Director of Prosecution had advised him to do so. But the Government sought a second opinion - rightly so - from former Supreme Court judge Arijit Pasayat, who counselled restraint. First order an investigation; and file the case only if the team felt it was necessary. If cases had been filed immediately, Chandy and his colleagues would have found them behind the bars. That possibility has been averted, at least for the time being.
Which, in other words, means a protracted political-legal war between the LDF Government and the UDF. The Congress’s charge that the Government’s decision smacks of political vendetta sounds hollow against the backdrop of the Government seeking a second opinion from the former SC judge. 
The shell-shocked Congress and UDF leaders are struggling to put up a credible defence.  True, the party and the UDF have decided to move the court, questioning the very credibility of the Commission, which they themselves had set up!
The sordid episode presents another opportunity to the Congress High Command to set things right.  All is still not lost for the Congress in Kerala. But tinkering won’t do.  It is a drastic situation. And the serious situation requires nothing short of a major surgery. Time for ‘tablet treatment’ is over.  The High Command must, therefore, act fast by first removing all ‘tainted’ leaders and injecting fresh blood if it wants the Congress to remain politically relevant in Kerala.
Needless to say, it is of utmost importance that the Congress stays relevant. For, the withering away of the party would mean a big gain for the BJP, which is trying its best to occupy the opposition space in the state. Of course, it will not be easy for the BJP to do so, given the strong secular foundation the state boasts. But still, the danger is very much there. That makes it all the more important for the High Command to intervene and apply the correctives fast. Failure to do so would see pundits busy writing the political obituary of the Congress in Kerala, one of the few states where the party is still a force to reckon with. And BJP, which is bent on a Congress-mukt Bharat, will have the last laugh.  (IPA)

Wednesday, 15 November, 2017