Kerala CM engulfed in the palmolein fire
Things were going well for Oommen Chandy after the initial hiccups of forming a UDF government with the macho allies. His ambitious 100-day governance program set the agenda with transparency and people friendly initiatives as corner stone. Even the live web streaming of his office and workroom attracted eyeballs. Here was a CM, swarmed 24/7 by people including tireless Congress workers, giving a patient ear to whoever approached with petitions. An absolute workaholic! From the Munnar land encroachment to the Smart City project, he knows the key issues well and is keen on projecting an image that the Government is at it.
But now the palmolein case is back to haunt him. The Trivandrum vigilance court on Monday directed investigators to probe Chandy's role in the palmolein import case of 1992, when he was finance minister in the K Karunakaran cabinet. The import had led to a loss of Rs 2.32 crore to the state government. The preliminary report had recommended against probing Chandy's role but the court overruled that and directed that an investigation be carried out and a report submitted within three months.
4 main observations of the court were:
- further enquiry should be done as there were serious lapses in the report.
- the statement of Oommen Chandy that he was not aware of the details of the import could not be considered seriously as the related file was with the finance department for around 45 days.
- as finance minister, Chandy had given approval to the porposal of the food and civil supplies minister to include the import as a special item in the agenda of the cabinet meeting.
- Chandy was also aware of the 15 per cent service charges involved in the import. So detailed enquiry is necessary, the court said.
The first major set back after coming into power was not taken lightly by Chandy himself. He repeated the stand he had taken earlier about being morally upright and offered to quit but retracted as advised by the senior ministers in the Cabinet and the Congress High Command. The Congress leadership stood by Sheila Dixit even after the CAG severely indicted her and there was no question of losing Chandy who single-handedly managed to form a UDF government in Kerala after winning with a wafer thin majority!
But the road ahead is hazy for the Congress party and its Chief Minister. The vigilance report will be submitted in 3 months time. With the Court closely watching the investigation Chandy will be in deep trouble if the vigilance department manage to dig in old files and lay down proof to establish a case against him. For now the state Congress party maintains that the court has ordered for reinvestigation without any new proof against him and that he will come out clean once again. The show of support was a sight to behold as KPCC chief Ramesh Chennithala (forgetting his personal rivalry for few seconds) and senior ministers K M Mani and Kunhalikutty unleashed the slogan "Oommen Chandy is innocent" in front of a crowded media gathering.
Politically the ruling front is grappling with new crisis. The opposition front led by CPM and V S Achuthanandan have launched scathing attacks against the CM and raised the clarion call for his resignation. Oommen Chandy gave up the vigilance portfolio, partly succumbing to their pressure but the Left parties are making the best use of the opportunity they have been waiting for. The Left has also designed a strategy to lead protests in the coming days across the state.
Palmolein case has been quite notorious in the recent past after it led to the ouster of former CVC P J Thomas. One of the main arguments that worked against him was the fact that he was an accused in the palmolein case pending in the Trivandrum Vigilance court. For the moment Oommen Chandy can hope that he won't be promoted from being a witness to an accused!