Over a year after the demand was first made by the Opposition, Kerala Finance Minister KM Mani has finally resigned. But Mani’s decision came after a day of tantrums following a Kerala High Court ruling that allows for a more detailed investigation into the bar bribery case. For the astute politician, who is also the longest serving MLA in the country, the resignation has come as a huge setback in his five decade old political career.
Not just Mani, his party colleague Thomas Unniyadan has also resigned as the Chief whip of the Kerala Government.
Though Mani only said that 'respect for law' forced him to resign, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy came out in support and declared that Mani had not been asked by the UDF to resign.
Mani has been under the scanner for months, after he was accused of accepting a bribe from bar owners. On Monday, the High Court upheld the vigilance court’s order that directed further investigation into the bar bribery case.
In spite of the court’s scathing remarks, Mani’s first reaction on Monday was to call the court’s order the result of a conspiracy. As Mani and his supporters brazened it out, an embarrassed Congress and other allies started telling the media that Mani should resign.
But things became complicated as Mani decided by late Monday night that he would not resign. By Tuesday morning, it seemed as if Mani will walk out of the UDF with his MLAs.
Just when the UDF was deciding on what was the best method to compel Mani, PJ Joseph intervened. Joseph, a senior leader with the Mani group enjoys the loyalty of 2 of the 9 MLAs with the Kerala Congress (M). PJ Joseph’s insistence at the party’s steering committee meeting, that he and his loyalists won’t resign, seems to have forced Mani to change tack.
Meanwhile, PC George, an MLA who had walked out of the Kerala Congress (M) a few months ago, announced that he would resign from the assembly, making Mani's position more precarious.
The deliberations went on through the day. As news channels camped outside Mani's residence, the news that kept trickling out was contradictory to say the least. Though PJ Joseph left Mani's residence, Mani did not emerge for hours.
The meeting that went on for four hours discussed all political consequences of a resignation. Some reports suggest that Chief Minister Oommen Chandy spoke to KM Mani over phone and informed him that UDF meeting wanted him to resign. Though some Mani loyalists insisted that all ministers from the party and chief whip Unniyadan should resign, the final decision was that only the Finance Minister would resign.
Details of the case
In his order, Justice Kamal Pasha said, “Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion. People will have anxiety about any further probe if the minister continues… I leave it to the conscience of the accused person whether to continue as a minister.”
The order came after the state government appealed to the Court, seeking that the case against Mani be quashed, but the High Court declined to give a stay order. Instead, it asked the government why it was using public money to defend a minister facing corruption allegations. The court also said that a minister should be above doubt like Caesar’s wife. The HC also asked if it was right for a minister to continue as his own department was conducting the probe.
President of the Bar Owners Association Biju Ramesh had alleged that the association had given Mani a bribe of Rs 1 crore in November 2014 to re-open 418 bars that had been closed down when prohibition was first implemented in the state.
However, when it became clear that the government would not reverse its policy, Ramesh held a press conference saying that the association had paid the first installment of the bribe and that two more were to follow.
On December 10, after preliminary investigation, the Vigilance department lodged a complaint after which an FIR was registered.
In March 2015, the Kerala Assembly saw quite a ruckus as the Opposition tried its best to prevent Mani from presenting the budget, but the latter found a way to do so.
On May 24 Biju Ramesh’s driver’s statement to investigators that he had seen Mani take a bribe which was subjected to a lie detector test, which he passed.
In June, the case took a twist when Vigilance SP Sukesh submitted a report saying that there was enough evidence to prosecute the minister, while the Vigilance Director Wilson M Paul’s report said the exact opposite and recommended that the case be closed.
On October 29, a vigilance court criticized Paul for his stand and ordered that the probe continue. However, the state government approached the Kerala High Court seeking a revision of the vigilance court order, but the High Court refused to grant a stay order, and instead upheld the vigilance court’s order.