The CPI(M)-led LDF government has been quick to use the sensational Solar commission report as a political weapon against the Congress, ordering a fresh probe in the scam. But when it comes to land grab allegations against Transport Minister Thomas Chandy, the response of the Pinarayi government has been tepid.
The allegations against Chandy, the richest Kerala legislator, are serious. A report by Alappuzha District Collector TV Anupama had confirmed that the Transport Minister encroached upon land for the construction of his Lake Palace Resort. The probe reportedly found that portions of Marthandam Lake in Alappuzha had been levelled for the construction of the resort. The collector also found evidence of a paddy field being filled up to build a parking lot for the resort.
CPI(M) puts onus on Chandy to resign
Despite demands for Chandy’s resignation, the CPI(M) has chosen not to blink. Instead, it has chosen to put the onus on the minister on whether to step down from his post.
Incidentally, Chandy, who represents the Kuttanad constituency, is the second NCP leader to be embroiled in a controversy. His predecessor and veteran NCP leader AK Saseendran resigned as Transport Minister after falling prey to a ‘honeytrap’ carried out by a newly launched television channel.
The CPI (M) Secretariat that met on Monday has decided to wait for legal opinion on the issue. It is learnt that CPI (M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan conveyed to the NCP leadership that it would be difficult to defend the minister if the legal opinion is against him.
With 58 legislators in the 140-member Assembly, the weak response from the CPI(M), the largest party in the LDF, is an embarrassment, say political observers.
“It is for the CPI (M) to ask him to step down until his name is cleared in the issue. It should not be left to the person to take the decision. It is for the people above him to take the decision,” veteran journalist and noted public activist BRP Bhaskar told TNM.
He notes, “The issue now is a moral one. The stand of the CPI (M) and the NCP to wait for the court judgment is not relevant to the issue at this stage. There is enough material now in the public domain to put the minister under a cloud.”
A silent CM
Significantly, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who was able to claim the moral high ground after the resignation of his close aide and Sports and Industries Minister EP Jayarajan in October 2016 after charges of nepotism, has remained tight-lipped on Chandy, failing to take an assertive stand. He even went so far as to call the allegations against the Transport Minister “politically motivated” at an Assembly session in August.
The only time the CM expressed his displeasure was when Chandy defiantly said he would continue construction in Alappuzha. His remarks made at the LDF’s Janajagratha Yathra on October 31, earned him a strong warning from Pinarayi, who summoned the minister and rebuked him for his comments.
The NCP on its part, has backed the minister saying it won't buckle under pressure. The party’s state president TP Peethambaran told the media on Friday that Chandy had done no wrong and everyone should wait for the final court orders.
CPI, the second largest party in the LDF, on Friday stated that action should have been taken against Chandy the moment the Collector submitted the report. Following a meeting, the CPI also noted that there was no need for its coalition partner to seek legal advice on the matter. Incidentally, CPI’s E Chandrasekharan holds the Revenue portfolio, which handles land related issues.
Congress asks why no action taken
The Opposition led by the Congress has been reiterating their demand for the resignation of the minister. But in the wake of the Solar Commission report, the voice of the opposition has become weak.
Congress leader TN Prathapan MLA, however, said that the silence of the CM and the neutral stand of the CPI (M) on the issue will pain true communists. He even alleged that the CPI (M) had received money from Thomas Chandy in return for taking an ambiguous position.
“The resignation of AK Saseendran and EP Jayarajan was based on the decision of the LDF and the CPI (M). Why is the coalition and the party not daring to ask for the resignation of Thomas Chandy? Chandy is a millionaire and had donated money to the CPI (M). The fact that he is still in the cabinet shows the unholy alliance between the official faction of the CPI (M) led by Pinarayi Vijayan and Thomas Chandy. Why has the government not taken the findings in the district collector’s report into consideration?” Prathapan told TNM.
Meanwhile Thomas Chandy on Thursday moved the Kerala High Court seeking a directive to the government to keep in abeyance further proceedings based on the collector's report.
The Kottayam Vigilance Court had on November 4 ordered a quick probe against the minister in the case.