Updated: November 11, 2015 12:14:57 am
With the Kerala High Court endorsing a vigilance court order that called for further investigation into the bar bribery scandal involving state Finance Minister K.M. Mani, the latter could not have stayed on in office. However, his resignation on Tuesday came late, after causing much embarassment to the Congress-led UDF government. Mani should have quit in October, when the vigilance court rejected the plea by the vigilance director seeking the withdrawal of the case against him. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, who should have insisted on Mani’s resignation then, not only defended him but even claimed that his own decision to accept the resignation of a minister censured by a court in a scandal during his previous term as CM was a mistake. At a time when the voice of citizens demanding probity and accountability in public life is growing louder, how could Chandy call for lowering the bar in standards of public conduct? To be sure, Mani’s support was crucial for the survival of the Chandy government. But in delaying his exit, the Congress revealed its own ambivalence, and double standard, on corruption.
The Congress leadership’s inaction in the face of mounting corruption allegations was one of the reasons behind the drubbing the UDF received in the recent local bodies election. The scale of the defeat — the UDF vote share fell by 10 per cent when compared to the 2010 election — is a clear sign of voter unhappiness with the government. With less than six months to go for the assembly election, the party does not have much time to redeem its record. That Chandy refused to ask for Mani’s resignation for so long, despite a section of the Congress demanding it, raised questions about his commitment to a clean government. For a party that, despite its paltry numbers, poses as the main political alternative at the Centre, the conduct of the Kerala leadership should be cause for concern.
The Congress’s failure to retain power in states like Maharashtra and Haryana was also because of its refusal to act decisively in cases of corruption, especially those involving ministers belonging to parties allied with it. Corruption scandals and allegations against the Congress-led UPA played a major role in its rout in the 2014 general election. Yet, the party continues to hedge, prevaricate and deny when faced with serious charges, as it did in Kerala. Politics is not just about the clever management of interest groups, and populist measures like prohibition will not always divert the people’s attention from political and governance failures.
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