FACING charges of nepotism in appointments to key posts in state public sector undertakings, CPM central committee member E P Jayarajan quit as Kerala’s Industries Minister on Friday. The exit of the powerful CPM leader, who was second only to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in the cabinet, came 142 days after the LDF assumed power and claimed that the verdict was a referendum against the “corrupt rule” of the previous Congress-led UDF government.
On Thursday, Kerala’s Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau had ordered a pilot probe against Jayarajan following allegations that he had appointed two close relatives to key posts in PSUs, flouting norms. Similar appointments of relatives of other party leaders in PSUs had also emerged, making the going tough for Jayarajan.
Jettisoned by his own party leaders and cabinet colleagues, Jayarajan had little option but to leave the cabinet. Later, he said that “a mafia and forces that have ruled the Industries Department” were restless over the steps he had initiated in the last four months.
“The performance of the Industries Department in the last four months was aimed at the growth of the state’s industrial sector. The decision to remove corrupt persons from key posts has made certain forces worried. This controversy has emerged against that backdrop,’’ said Jayarajan.
Although the names of a couple of leaders were doing the rounds to succeed Jayarajan, his portfolios — Industries and Sports — would be handled by Chief Minister Vijayan. CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said Jayarajan has resigned to ensure that the image of the party and the government remained intact. “He had confessed to the mistake. Jayarajan wanted to quit and prove that the LDF government is different from other governments. The party state secretariat accepted his decision,’’ he said.
Balakrishnan said several ministers in the previous UDF government had faced corruption charges. “None of them opted to resign. But, the CPM has a different approach. If a minister from the party faces an allegation, our policy is to keep him away from the post until the truth comes out. We have implemented that policy,’’ he said. The party’s central committee will now decide whether any further action needs to be taken against Jayarajan, said Balakrishnan.
Earlier on Friday, Jayarajan came under severe criticism within the party’s state secretariat, which sought action against the minister for landing the newly elected government in such a major controversy. Last week, it emerged that Jayarajan had appointed his sister-in-law’s son, P K Sudheer Nambiar, as managing director of Kerala State Industrial Enterprises. Nambiar is the son of P K Sreemathi, a CPM MP in the Lok Sabha.
This appointment came close on the heels of Deepthi Nishad, the daughter-in-law of Jayarajan’s brother, being named as the general manager of Clay and Ceramics Limited. While Nishad quit her post following the uproar, Nambiar’s appointment was subsequently cancelled. Jayarajan, 66, a third-time MLA from Mattanur in Kannur, is one of the most prominent faces of the CPM in the state and known to be close to Vijayan.
In Delhi, senior CPM leaders admitted that the episode had dented the image of the party and the state government, and indicated that more correctional steps would follow. Sources said the central leadership feels that Jayarajan’s continuation in the cabinet had become untenable in the wake of the allegations and this view was conveyed to the state unit.
On whether the party would take action against Jayarajan and Sreemathi, CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury said that since both are central committee members, any decision would be taken by the central leadership. Putting up a brave front, Yechury said that Jayarajan’s resignation should not be seen as a setback to the party.
“Taking corrective measures is not a setback at all. We are a party of principles and values. The state secretariat has taken a decision and a decision that is good. Correcting mistakes is never a setback. That shows the maturity and different character (of the party),” he said.
“In this case, there was a mistake, we corrected it unlike the previous UDF government,” said Yechury. The Congress, meanwhile, hit out at the CPM, claiming that “ideological bankruptcy of the Pinarayi Vijayan government has been exposed”.
“It (the resignation) proves that the CPM does not practice what it preaches. If the Left government in Kerala is mired in such allegations of nepotism and wrongdoing in four months, imagine the happenings in the remaining four-and-a-half years,” said Randeep Surjewala, who heads the party’s communication department.
Jayarajan had earlier courted controversy by removing India’s lone World Championship medal-winner in athletics and long-jumper Anju Bobby George as president of the Kerala State Sports Council, alleging nepotism in appointments.
He had also faced ridicule for hailing Mohammed Ali as a sportsperson from Kerala who brought glory to the state by winning many medals, following the American boxing legend’s death.