Digging its heels in against the series of allegations against its ministers, the Congress-led UDF decided on Saturday not to accept the resignation of Excise Minister K Babu, who had quit a week ago.
Babu had submitted his resignation to Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy after the Vigilance Court in Thrissur ordered a probe against him into the allegation that he had taken Rs 10 crore as bribe from owners to reduce the hike in liquor licence fee.
The UDF also urged Kerala Congress (M) chairman K M Mani to return to the Cabinet. In November last year, Mani had quit as finance minister after the high court upheld the Vigilance court decision to conduct a further probe into the allegation that he had taken Rs 1 crore as bribe from bar owners to renew liquor licences.
However, the Vigilance court had recently given him a clean chit after its further probe failed to fetch enough evidence to chargesheet Mani.
Chandy, who has refused to resign over allegations himself, appears to have decided to retain his loyalist Babu. The Vigilance and Anti Corruption Bureau that acted on a PIL against Babu is handled by Chandy’s rival Ramesh Chennithala.
Instead of handing over Babu’ s resignation to the governor, the CM had waited for a decision by the high court. Two days back, the high court stayed the Vigilance probe against Babu for two months. Against the backdrop of the relief from the high court, the UDF meeting, attended by Chandy and other senior coalition leaders, found no reason to accept Babu’s resignation.
Babu told media in Kochi that he would go by the decision of the UDF. “I am not an Independent legislator. Hence, I have to go by what the party said.”
Congress sources said the party cannot keep Mani away from the Cabinet as that may affect the fortunes of Congress candidates in a few Assembly segments in central Kerala.
But Mani said he had no immediate plans to join the Cabinet. “I would take an appropriate decision at the apt time after consulting with party leaders. I am not in a haste to join the Cabinet again.”
Incidentally, the UDF invitation to Mani comes ahead of the Catholic politician’s slated meeting with BJP president Amit Shah next week in Kottayam. Shah is visiting Kerala on February 3.
Two weeks back Union minister Sadananda Gowda had a closed-door meeting Cardinal George Alencherry, the head of the Syrian Catholic Church in Kerala. BJP sources said one of the demands of the Church was that the BJP should accommodate Mani’s son Jose K Mani, a Member of Parliament, in the NDA ministry.
CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan accused Mani of bargaining with the Congress ahead of his meeting with Shah.
A top leader of the BJP said there were “surprises” in store in Kerala.