It is an irony that the CPM, which swept to power in Kerala riding the crest of an anti-corruption wave last May, finds itself in the dock for corruption in just over 142 days in power. It is all the more a shame that one of its powerful leaders, Industries Minister E.P. Jayarajan has had to quit the Cabinet following revelations of doling out plum posts in state public sector undertakings to his kith and kin. Not Jayarajan alone, but the Left Democratic Front government led by party strongman Pinarayi Vijayan is itself under a cloud over favouritism. Contrary to general belief that Jayarajan would get away this time too as in the past, the party state secretariat was forced to take the tough decision by the central leadership, especially general secretary Sitaram Yechury. State party secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, while announcing the resignation after the party secretariat meeting in Thiruvananthapuram, said Jayarajan had resigned to uphold the image of the party. He said Jayarajan had also admitted to his mistakes and wrongdoings at the meeting, which witnessed strident criticism against the minister’s style of functioning from certain senior leaders. “The party has set an example with the resignation of Jayarajan. The Secretariat also advised the government to find ways to make PSU appointments more transparent in future. Jayarajan asked the Secretariat to prove that the present government stand is different from the stand taken by other parties and governments. He also said he should be allowed to resign as the image of the party and the government should not take a beating,” Kodiyeri said. The Secretariat has accepted the resignation. It seems the LDF has turned full circle; the Front’s election winning slogan being “LDF will come, everything will be all right.” Hopefully, for many in the party, everything will be all right.
It is certain that the resignation is an attempt by the party to live up to its expectations. As soon as the corruption saga unfolded, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s constant refrain was that “LDF is not UDF and CPM is not Congress”. Knowingly or unknowingly, Pinarayi has been bracing to sacrifice his right hand man and practically second-in-command in the ministry. He and the party had no other options as pressure mounted from the allies and the party’s new support base, the young voters, who flooded social media with condemnation. There is nothing new about a government favouring party workers when coming to power. What has stunned the Kerala public is that such blatant favouritism has come from the CPM, which maintains they are different from the “bourgeois parties”. What about the milling highly qualified unemployed or even those dependents of thousands of “martyrs” of the party, they ask. Why do only the sons of top leaders of the party get preference? The other communist party, the CPI, has been highly critical. Its mouthpiece, Janayugam, wrote: “Nepotism is undoubtedly corruption. A facelift explanation cannot justify it.”
The LDF was just recovering from the controversy over its decision to hike fees of private medical colleges steeply, a clear move to favour managements which run those institutions, when the nepotism charges exploded in the face of Jayarajan like a bomb. Jayarajan had appointed his nephew P.K. Sudheer Nambiar, son of his sister-in-law and Kannur MP, P.K. Sreemathy, as the managing director of Kerala Industrial Enterprises Ltd., early this month. When it came to light that Sudheer did not have the qualification set by the Restructuring and Internal Audit Board (RIAB), which executes state owned enterprises’ reform initiatives, the ministry hastily put out a press note saying his appointment has been cancelled. The flimsy reason given was that Sudheer wanted more time and perhaps more emoluments. This was just hours after Jayarajan berated media persons who questioned him about the appointments, saying arrogantly that “many of my relatives will be in different positions, so what”. During the last LDF government led by V.S. Achuthanandan, P.K. Sreemathy as Health Minister had appointed her daughter-in-law as a cook in her official residence only to be promoted to a higher category and she is drawing a hefty pension now. Sreemathy, after keeping silent all these years, has now posted on Facebook that the appointment was with the knowledge of the party. This was promptly denied by Pinarayi Vijayan, who was then state party secretary and the Facebook entry vanished in no time. As the news spread, many other skeletons started falling off Jayarajan’s Industry cupboard. The daughter-in-law of Jayarajan’s elder brother, Deepti Nishad, was appointed as general manager of Kerala Clays and Ceramic Products Ltd in Kannur, with a salary of Rs 1 lakh per month. Interestingly, the unit is on the verge of closure, with the government apparently planning to turn it into an animal farm. Deepti has hence put in her papers, with her husband blaming the media for adverse publicity. Of over 100 PSUs in Kerala, only 32 are profit-making. Once Jayarajan had told the Assembly that “the government will not allow collapse of the PSUs and will not entertain any attempts to loot public money”.
Jayarajan’s largesse was not confined to his immediate family. Many other prominent CPM leaders’ progeny figure on the list. These include former Chief Minister, the late E.K. Nayanar’s grandson, Suraj Ravindran, as managing director of Kerala Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (KINFRA) Film and Video Park, state party secretariat member Aanathalavattam Anandan’s son Jeev Anand as KINFRA Apparel Park MD, former MLA Koliyakkode Krishnan Nair’s son Unnikrishnan as general manager of KINFRA. All these appointments were reportedly made without conducting interviews or inviting other candidates. Now it has come to light that these appointments are not confined to the industry ministry alone. There are many irregularities in the appointment of government pleaders, senior and special pleaders. It is said that the entire Ernakulam district committee of the party has to be reconstituted as there is hardly anyone left after almost all the leaders have taken up chairmanship of different boards, with their spouses accommodated as government pleaders. According to latest reports, CPM Central Committee member, M.C. Josephine has lodged a complaint with state party secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan against the appointment of relatives of party leaders in key posts. Josephine, a known supporter of rebel leader veteran V.S. Achuthanandan, has alleged such appointments have tarnished the image of the party and the four-and-a-half month old Pinarayi government. In fact, when Achuthanandan aired the same view, Vijayan had rubbished it. Even as social media is flooded with resentment over the developments, party spokespersons, otherwise very active, are keeping off TV discussions and interviews.
Jayarajan has always courted controversy and each time the party, mainly the Kannur lobby, has bailed him out. He, as GM of party mouthpiece Deshabhimani, had allegedly accepted Rs 2 crore from the notorious lottery king Santiago Martin who had swindled the state exchequer of crores in revenue. Then during the party plenum in Palakkad, Deshabhimani carried a front page congratulatory ad from another tainted industrialist “Chaakku” Radhakrishnan, who got the sobriquet “Chaakku” following his underhand dealings in the supply of jute bags to the state owned Malabar Cements, another dying PSU. Each time Jayarajan got away with minor warnings on “bourgeois deviation”. After becoming a minister, he captured notoriety with his reaction as sports minister to the death of boxing legend Mohammad Ali: “He had won several gold medals for Kerala and had taken our state’s fame sky high.” This was followed by his tiff with Olympian Anju Bobby George, who was heading the Kerala Sports Council. He charged her with favouritism and corruption, forcing her to quit.
The question now being raised in party circles is whether his resignation will ease the stranglehold over the party by the Kannur lobby. For almost everyone in this corruption soap opera, the protagonist and his beneficiaries, hail from Kannur.
E.P. Jayarajan, one of the notorious “Thrimoorthy” Jayarajans from there, the others being district party secretary P. Jayarajan, who has many murder charges against him and M.V. Jayarajan, a maverick state committee member, is a “living martyr” for the party. He is one among the few who has survived assassination attempts. However, the import of Jayarajan lies elsewhere. He is not just another leader from Kannur, he is the one who brings bounty to the party coffers; its mascot when dealing with the moneyed class. So don’t be surprised if Jayarajan bounces back after a few months in hibernation. After all, CPM is a party which admits its mistakes only to repeat them again and again. That is Marxism for you.