Asks CBI to probe the case involving Congress leaders, including Oommen Chandy.


New Delhi: The decision of the Left Front government in Kerala to ask CBI to probe the now infamous solar sex scandal involving a number of top Congress leaders, prominent among them former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, is just a political gamble, some say gimmick, in the run up to the Assembly elections scheduled for May this year. Though the ruling CPM and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan are trying to pass it off as just another government decision, those who live in Kerala or rather the rice-eaters, know full well that the move is aimed at a successive second term in office. Kerala has not elected an incumbent government in the last 50 odd years. Additional Chief Secretary, Home, T.K. Jose issued the order based on a complaint by the woman standing accused in the sensational solar investment fraud case in 2015 that plagued Oommen Chandy during the final years of his tenure as Chief Minister from 2011 to 2016. The “victim” alleged the politicians sought and received sexual favours from her promising state support for her business venture in setting up solar power units across the state. AICC general secretary K.C. Venugopal, former ministers Adoor Prakash and A.P. Anil Kumar Congress MP from Ernakulam Hiby Edenh and one of the national vice-presidents of the BJP A.P. Abdullah Kutty, are the other respondents in the case. There are many others who are not currently included in the state list forwarded to CBI.

Justifying his government’s decision to hand over the case to CBI, Vijayan told newspersons on Thursday that “legal propriety and not political vendetta” had prompted such a decision. Vijayan and his CPM-led Left Front had swept to power with a thumping majority on the promise to “set everything right” and bring all those accused in the scandal to book. But nothing happened in the last four-and-a half-years of Vijayan’s rule and suddenly he and his party have woken up to the fact that the “accused woman” has not been provided justice and hence the decision to rope in CBI, the people were made to understand.

Incidentally, Chandy at the end of his earlier tenure as Chief Minister had in 2006 referred the SNC-Lavalin case in which Pinarayi Vijayan is one of the accused, to the CBI. The SNC-Lavalin case, which is pending with the Supreme Court, relates to a 1995 hydroelectric infrastructure contract between the Kerala Government and the Canadian company which resulted in an alleged loss over three crores to the state exchequer. Pinarayi Vijayan as the then State Electricity Minister had gone against the recommendations of a committee and hurriedly signed the contract with the Canadian firm. The Opposition believes that a part of the kick-off went into the CPM coffers. That the Lavlin case did not help Chandy and his Congress to win the 2006 Assembly elections is another matter. Coming to the solar case, the CPM hopes to use it as a double-edged sword. The party has been accusing the Congress of being hand in glove with the BJP in bringing top central investigation agencies which are currently camped in the state probing various cases linked to the gold smuggling racket unearthed early last year. As it is, the CBI’s hands are full; it is investigating almost a dozen cases in the state. In case the CBI refuses to take up the case, it becomes handy for the CPM to justify Congress-BJP collusion in the state. If not, the Left Front can use the scandal to further tarnish the image of Oommen Chandy who is designated to lead the Opposition front in the Assembly elections.

After its winning performance in local body elections, everyone thought that the Left Front would emphasise more on development aspects in electioneering rather than indulge in petty politicking. It looks like Pinarayi Vijayan is not too confident of his developmental success alone. There is a large section of people, including quite a lot of CPM sympathisers, who believe that Pinarayi’s new-found love for development has taken him closer to crony capitalists and the ideas of Modi and Shah than his comrades in the state or outside the state. For all practical purposes, the central leadership of the CPM has no role per se to play in the affairs of Kerala. When it comes to governance or party affairs, Pinarayi Vijayan’s is the last word for CPM in Kerala. It is quite natural that he is keen to have a second term as chief minister. In Kerala, Pinarayi is practising his own version of communism. In political circles it is said that that is what the BJP too wants. The Hindutva party believes that the more Congress is discredited, the more the party’s chances of growth in the state. For that it needs someone like Pinarayi Vijayan, a la Buddhadeb Bhattacharyra in West Bengal. “Let Pinarayi do the last rites of the party (CPM) which was born in Pinarayi,” is the motto, confided a BJP neta who was part of a “baudhik chintan” gathering in Kochi recently. The first unit of the undivided communist party in the state was formed in village Pinarayi in Kannur district in the 1920s. But it is to be seen whether CPM’s gamble will work. There is every chance it may boomerang. After all, Pinarayi Vijayan has nothing to lose; and Oommen Chandy does not have an impressive track record in winning elections. In 2011, Chandy pulled off a two-seat majority solely because Pinarayi Vijayan, then as state CPM secretary, did not want his arch rival V.S. Achuthanandan to get a second term in office. Pinarayi wants to do one better than VS one last time–that sums up Kerala CPM’s political game plan.

POSTSCRIPT: Pinarayi Vijayan announced his government’s decision to hand over the solar scandal case to CBI immediately after felicitating Oommen Chandy on completion of uninterrupted 50 years as a legislator in the state Assembly.