Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy finds himself facing the same kind of pressure as he had once mounted on the late K Karunakaran. In many ways,the ongoing solar panel scam haunting Chandy is a throwback to the ISRO spy scandal of 1994,which had led to Karunakarans resignation as chief minister in 1995.
Apart from the chief ministers and Chandy as a central figure,though in different perspectives,both scandals have been marked by strong media campaigns,with Chandy mounting one and being the target of the other. Also common is a woman as a key player,Mariyam Rasheeda then and Saritha S Nair now.
The grounds on which Karunakaran resigned were of political morality,after the Kerala High Court made adverse remarks against an IPS officer whom the then chief minister was accused of protecting. Today,Chandy is facing demands to quit on the same grounds following remarks by the court,though he insists those were not adverse remarks against him.
Among those who have drawn a parallel is Karunakarans son K Muraleedharan,also a senior Congress leader. He has referred to the ISRO scandal and said,My father quit to uphold political morality. It was one of two occasions when Karunakaran resigned as chief minister.
Chandy led those accusing Karunakaran of protecting then IG Raman Srivastava. The IPS officer was not an accused in the case,but a suspect. On a public interest litigation,the high court made adverse remarks against the officer and action was taken against him. Chandy,then second-in-command in the A K Antony faction of the Congress,was quoted in the press in early 1995 as saying,The ISRO scandal is Karunakarans sin. Taking action against Srivastava will not be enough.
The current scandal has seen a close Chandy aide arrested and two others shown the door. The oppositions demands for Chandys resignation have grown after last weeks observations by two benches of the court. Hearing the bail application of an accused,one bench asked the government whether it has anything to hide. The other bench referred to a fraud committed by persons allegedly close to Chandy,and asked whether there was any probe to ascertain that the so-called cheating has taken place with the knowledge of the power centre. This remark followed after the court had read out a paragraph from the petition that mentioned Chandy.
Chandy has declared that he would not quit on the court observations,which according to him were not adverse. Last week,he said he would not resign based on media reports.
In 1995,the local media,particularly those under Christian managements,had rallied behind the Antony faction against Karunakaran. Chandys room in the legislators hostel was described by media as the place were strategies were worked out. The media held a one-sided trial against Karunakaran, Muraleedharan said. Even though the oppositions no-confidence motion failed in the assembly,the ruling front demanded Karunakarans exit.
Of late,Chandy has been highly critical of media trials. On Saturday,he threatened to register a case against a TV channel. In the competition between channels,he has been dumped even by those belonging to media houses that once helped build his image as a mass leader.
The media has also spiced up its coverage with details of alleged con woman Saritha S Nairs call lists,giving it precedence over the financial aspects of the fraud. During the ISRO scandal,it was Mali woman Mariam Rasheedas relations that had dominated media discussions more than the alleged loss of space secretes.
Visiting cards recovered from Rasheeda,her physical attributes and alleged relations with scientists saw her being compared to Mata Hari,the World War I spy. Now the discussion is about Nairs personal life and the calls and the SMS she sent to politicians,many of whom are worried whether they are named in the list.
Something Chandy told the media 18 years ago has,in the view of the opposition,turned prophetic. On February 4,1995,Chandy said in a newspaper interview,The first person who could ruin me would be myself,then my relatives,and then my close friends. He was referring to Karunakaran and his statement that he could not take action against Srivastava without evidence of his involvement.
Now that three of his associates have become embroiled in the scam,CPM leader V S Achuthanandan said,Chandy is being haunted by his own words. He cant escape.