Over four months after forming the government in Kerala, the CPM has been forced to oust the minister for industry and sports, E.P. Jayarajan, from the state cabinet following allegations of nepotism. As minister, Jayarajan, a central committee member, had allegedly appointed his relatives to senior management posts in public sector units without following any norms. One of the appointees was the son of party MP and central committee member, P.K. Sreemathi Teacher, who is also Jayarajan’s sister-in-law. Details of other such appointments favouring relatives of senior party leaders have been exposed in the media since. Very few of the beneficiaries of government largesse have been active in the party, which strengthens the allegations that their appointments had everything to do with their family connections.
Nepotism is rampant in politics. But the CPM has always claimed that it is different on this count — in fact, it had a special plenum to address such issues and even produced a policy document listing dos and don’ts for party functionaries when they occupy public office. Transparency in government and revival of state PSUs were key campaign promises of the Left Front during the elections in May held in the wake of corruption scandals involving the Oommen Chandy administration. Jayarajan violated both promises: Inexperienced and unqualified hands were appointed in a discretionary manner to top managerial posts in PSUs, reflecting a view of PSUs as personal fiefs for dispensing patronage. The public uproar was such that the CPM leadership could not have defended the minister without damaging the credibility of the party and the government further.
Since it took office in May, the Left Front government has been trying to attract capital and build infrastructure in the state. By all accounts, it has avoided the ideological straitjacket in its pursuit of ideas to expand the economy and create jobs. A compromised industry minister would have been a liability in forging a way forward. The government must now build on Jayarajan’s resignation to institutionalise disclosure and conflict-of-interest norms. Kerala could take the lead in designing an institutional architecture to enforce transparency in governance. After all, industry and capital prefer destinations that have institutionalised clear and transparent procedures and processes.