Intro: Kerala High Court have directed the Government of Kerala to submit the progress report of preliminary vigilance enquiry on bribery allegations by bar owners against the Finance Minister and Kerala Congress supremo KM Mani.
The direction came on November 11, asking State’s Advocate General KP Dandapani to submit the progress report in a week. This is in the wake of the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by VS Sunilkumar MLA of CPI. This is really a heavy blow to the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) government led by Oommen Chandy. However UDF leaders are arguing that this is not a verdict against their veteran leader. Sunil Kumar, in his prayer, stated that the decision of Supreme Court’s constitutional bench was for preliminary enquiry to be completed in seven days.
The High Court direction was followed by a bolt from the blue which Mani suffered a couple of weeks before when Dr Biju Ramesh, Working President of Kerala Bar Hotels Association (KBHA), came out with a shocking revelation that Mani had demanded Rs 5 crore for facilitating the reopening of the closed bars in the State and he was already given Rs 1 crore, in two installments, at latter’s residence. The bribe was for reopening 418 bars closed down as their standards were said to be below the stipulated parameters. But, when even the remaining 312 bars were ordered to close, KBHA decided not to give the balance amount. Biju went to the extent of stating that he had given the monies after informing Chief Minister, Oommen Chandy. Kerala Congress is the third largest partner in UDF.
Chandy and other UDF leaders had rejected the Biju’s allegation. But, leaders of Kerala Congress found the hidden hands of CM and his close lieutenants in this blame game. They believe, the allegation is to stop Mani from leaving UDF and form a government with the outside support of CPM-led Opposition Left Democratic Front (LDF). It is to be noted that few months before, rumours were spread with the stories of secret plot between CPM and Mani for installing him as the CM hence dethroning Chandy and UDF. Interestingly CPM State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan came out with indirect sympathy to Mani. He said the move was to prevent Mani from taking over as the CM; at the end of the day the allegation is Chandy’s advantage. But, Leader of the Opposition and the man Pinarayi loves to hate, VS Achuthanandan pointed out the legal aspect that if electronic media brings out an allegation Vigilance Department can go ahead with an FIR. He dared CM to go for a CBI inquiry
KPCC chief VM Sudheeran had taken the stand not to open the closed bars as their standards were below the stipulated level. When the popular support blew in Sudheeran’s favour, his baiters led by CM and Home Minister who dislike Sudheeran’s ‘one man army’ style for enjoying the applause of the common men, decided not to open the closed bars even though most of the owners had spent several crores to renovate them to the stipulated standards. Government declared that only 4 star and 5 star hotels could have bars and 10 per cent of the outlets of Beverages Corporation would be closed down every year hence leading to total ban in the State.
As VM Sudheeran and Industries Minister and Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) leader PK Kunjalikkutty supported Mani, minister’s close party colleagues including Government chief whip PC George came down heavily on CM.
Now Biju Ramesh has given statement before Vigilance Department. Those days he kept all guessing saying that monies were given to Mani before the election and it could be even election fund, etc. People suspected that he was somersaulting. But the very next day he said that he stuck to his gun. He added he received threats from Kerala Congress pressing to withdraw the allegation; he got an e-mail threat from one PT Jose. After taking Biju’s statement, Vigilance Department has interrogated his driver and his loyal manager.
Political observers think that the allegation is spearheaded by the CM’s men to keep Mani and his party in UDF fold. Some others believe that bar owners have conspired to facilitate the exit of Mani from UDF.
—T Satisan from Kochi