Alarming the Congress high command in Delhi, and with barely three months left for assembly elections in Kerala, a Vigilance court today ordered the registration of an FIR against Chief Minister Oommen Chandy in the solar scam.
The court’s direction came a day after one of the accused in the scam, Saritha S Nair, alleged that she paid Rs 1.9 crore as bribe to Chandy. It also triggered calls for Chandy’s resignation but the Congress leader said he “cannot be ousted after being humiliated with allegations”.
“If there is an iota of substance in the allegation, I will quit public life,” he said. Later, after holding discussions with party leaders and legal experts in Kochi, Chandy said he would file an appeal in the High Court on Friday against the order of the Vigilance court in Thrissur.
Chandy’s stand appeared to have been endorsed by a “nervous” party in Delhi, where it was decided that the embattled Chief Minister need not resign “at this stage”. The decision was taken after senior leader and former Kerala CM A K Antony, and state in-charge Mukul Wasnik, met Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Sources said the party has decided to “wait and watch”.
A senior Congress leader described the developments as “serious” and said the party had little option but to “battle it out” since the elections were months away. “We are caught in a catch-22 situation. The Chief Minister’s resignation, even if citing moral grounds, would virtually mean acceptance of guilt. His continuation would fuel the Opposition’s agitation,” said the leader.
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“Chandy has said that he is going to discuss all issues with all coalition partners and colleagues. A detailed report would also be submitted to the Congress party leadership in this regard,” said Congress leader Randeep Surjewala.
However, even though state Congress chief V M Sudheeran and Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala came out in support of Chandy, a section of the party’s local leadership holds the view that he “should go without further embarrassing the party and its government on the eve of elections”.
Sources said the party is now pinning its hopes on getting a stay from the High Court on the Vigilance court’s order. The High Court today stayed a similar order by the same court against K Babu, a minister who is believed to be close to Chandy and who resigned last week, based on allegations that he had pocketed a bribe from bar owners to reduce their annual licence fee.
The High Court said the Vigilance court’s order was in haste and ordered the Vigilance bureau to submit a quick verification report within 10 days.
While ordering an FIR against Chandy, Vigilance Judge S S Vassan acted upon a public interest litigation filed by activist P D Joseph who produced newspaper reports regarding Nair’s allegations. The court forwarded the complaint to the state Vigilance chief to investigate the charges under Cr PC section 156 (3).
Chandy, meanwhile, sought to link Nair’s allegations to the legal tussle that his government was involved in with bar owners in the state following the new liquor policy that led to over 400 bars being shut down.
“The bar hotel owners who lost their case in the Supreme Court are behind the allegations. They want to dethrone the government as its liquor policy had affected their business,” he said.
Meanwhile, deposing before the judicial commission probing the scam on Thursday, Nair levelled fresh allegations against Chandy, claiming the Chief Minister had asked her mother over the phone to tell her not to reveal facts about the case. She claimed that her mother told her about the call in 2013, during a visit to meet her in jail.
She also levelled allegations against the Opposition Left Front, claiming that the CPI(M) had offered her Rs 10 crore to speak against Chandy. “It was in 2014 that the CPI (M) made the offer. But I didn’t take it up as there was no guarantee,” she said.
Apart from Chandy, the Vigilance court also ordered the registration of an FIR against Power Minister Aryadan Muhammed based on the allegations levelled by Nair. Muhammed, too, is expected to move a separate appeal in the court.
Apart from Chandy, Muhammed and Nair, others arraigned as respondents in the complaint are Chandy’s former aides Jikkumon Jacob, Tenny Joppen, former minister K B Ganesh Kumar, Kumar’s private secretary Pradeep Kumar and Muhammed’s private secretary Keshavan.
On Wednesday, Nair had alleged before the judicial commission probing the case that she had “bribed” Chandy to obtain government subsidy and other benefits for her solar energy venture. She also alleged that Minister Muhammed was paid Rs 40 lakh for the same reason.
Nair and her live-in partner Biju Radhakrishnan together floated the firm Team Solar Renewable Energy Solutions Private Limited in 2011, and were arrested in 2013 for allegedly duping investors from whom they collected crores for a solar power project. Last month, Radhakrishnan, now serving life term for the murder of his wife, claimed before the commission that he had paid Rs 5.5 crore to Chandy as bribe.