It is not the first time the CPI(M) is facing corruption charges. Every CPI(M) government in Kerala and West Bengal has been charged with corruption and favouritism but they were all brushed under the carpet by an obliging media and often-friendly governments at the centre. And in most cases it was the party not individual leaders who were at the centre of corruption charges. However, this time its most prominent face in Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan is facing charge sheet of the CBI for criminal conspiracy in a Rs. 374 crore corruption case in the now famous SNC Lavalin contract.
The CBI charge against Vijayan has not surprised anybody in Kerala, though the CPI(M) is protesting in holy horror as if the whole controversy has come as a surprise. In fact, according to reports, soon after the CBI charged criminal involvement of Vijayan in the scam, last week, the Kerala Chief Minister VS Achutanandan rushed to the party central leadership in Delhi and submitted a letter demanding Vijayan'sremoval as party general secretary in the state. The party leadership, which often pretends a hugely exaggerated moralistic stance when it comes to corruption charges pertaining to other parties, this time accused the CBI of acting as a tool of the Congress and the centre in a pre-planned ploy to finish the party in the state. True to form, Vijayan and his cronies have taken to streets threatening state-wide agitation and addressing district-level meetings to explain to the public the alleged vendetta in the CBI charge sheet. Only that neither the people in the state nor even the party cadre are impressed. The demand for Vijayan'sresignation is gaining strength within the party.
The case has its origin in 1997, when Vijayan was the state Power Minister in the EK Nayanar government. It pertains to a contract the State Electricity Board had signed with Canadian utility company SNC Lavalin for renovation of three hydel power projects. Vijayan, who is very fond of foreign travels made a trip to Canada on the pretext of inspecting the company and is alleged to have signed the contract which left the state poorer both in electricity and public fund. Vijayan is known as the corporate savvy moneybag of the CPI(M) in Kerala. He is, of course, in the name of the party, perhaps the top-most political entrepreneur in the state. He owns, again in the name of the party luxury hotels, water parks, hospitals, animal sanctuaries, media empire and housing colonies in the state. The CPI(M) according to some estimates is the richest entrepreneur in the investment starved state. Some in the know of things say that the party assets in the state are worth Rs. 20,000 crore. It is equally rich in West Bengal where it has been in power for over three decades. It owns one of the biggest media chains in both the states. Its real estate in state capital and district and town centres is the envy of other parties. It is said no contract or public utility work is given without the party getting its share. In every purchase and government work the party has a fixed percentage as its cut. The CPM'smoral indignation against the Vijayan charge sheet has to be seen in this light.
For the record, the CPM has accused the UPA government of trying to settle scores for withdrawing the Left'ssupport last July. It might be true that as long as the Left was supporting the UPA, the CBI went slow on the investigation. It is equally true that it was the High Court that ordered the probe, after it was convinced that the finding of an earlier state government ordered vigilance investigation was inadequate. The High Court had ordered the CBI probe following three Public Interest Litigations alleging that the state government under the CPM was trying to cover up the investigation. The Kerala High Court division bench while ordering the probe in January 2007, overruled the state government'sobjections and asked the CBI to take up the probe.
The irregularities in the Lavalin contract first came to light when a report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General in 2006 had made some incriminating observations. The CBI inquiry was first ordered when Oomen Chandy, the UDF chief minister, was in power. The centre did not issue the necessary notification because of the bonhomie between the CPM and the Congress government at the centre.
There are many in the Kerala CPM who are delighted by the fact that nemesis is catching up with the discredited CPM politburo member. Vijayan as state secretary is running a parallel government in the state though the Chief Minister is also from his own party. With his money and muscle power Vijayan had unleashed a reign of terror annihilating both physically and politically his opponents within the party. And because of his capacity to raise funds, and his control over the party machinery, the central leadership so far looked the other way despite serious allegations against him. Even the party chief minister is a helpless victim of his shenanigans. One thing is clear. The CPM image in the country is tarnished beyond repair as a consequence of the corruption charges against Vijayan and the central leadership'sinability to act against him.