Corruption taints CPM beyond repair

via - Editorial published on February 9, 2009

It is not the first time the CPI(M) is facing corruption charges. Every
CPI(M) government in Kerala and West Bengal has been charged with
corruption and favouritism but they were all brushed under the carpet
by an obliging media and often-friendly governments at the centre. And
in most cases it was the party not individual leaders who were at the
centre of corruption charges. However, this time its most prominent
face in Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan is facing charge sheet of the CBI for
criminal conspiracy in a Rs. 374 crore corruption case in the now
famous SNC Lavalin contract.

The CBI charge against Vijayan has not surprised anybody in
Kerala, though the CPI(M) is protesting in holy horror as if the whole
controversy has come as a surprise. In fact, according to reports, soon
after the CBI charged criminal involvement of Vijayan in the scam, last
week, the Kerala Chief Minister VS Achutanandan rushed to the party
central leadership in Delhi and submitted a letter demanding Vijayan’s
removal as party general secretary in the state. The party leadership,
which often pretends a hugely exaggerated moralistic stance when it
comes to corruption charges pertaining to other parties, this time
accused the CBI of acting as a tool of the Congress and the centre in a
pre-planned ploy to finish the party in the state. True to form,
Vijayan and his cronies have taken to streets threatening state-wide
agitation and addressing district-level meetings to explain to the
public the alleged vendetta in the CBI charge sheet. Only that neither
the people in the state nor even the party cadre are impressed. The
demand for Vijayan’s resignation is gaining strength within the party.

The case has its origin in 1997, when Vijayan was the state
Power Minister in the EK Nayanar government. It pertains to a contract
the State Electricity Board had signed with Canadian utility company
SNC Lavalin for renovation of three hydel power projects. Vijayan, who
is very fond of foreign travels made a trip to Canada on the pretext of
inspecting the company and is alleged to have signed the contract which
left the state poorer both in electricity and public fund. Vijayan is
known as the corporate savvy moneybag of the CPI(M) in Kerala. He is,
of course, in the name of the party, perhaps the top-most political
entrepreneur in the state. He owns, again in the name of the party
luxury hotels, water parks, hospitals, animal sanctuaries, media empire
and housing colonies in the state. The CPI(M) according to some
estimates is the richest entrepreneur in the investment starved state.
Some in the know of things say that the party assets in the state are
worth Rs. 20,000 crore. It is equally rich in West Bengal where it has
been in power for over three decades. It owns one of the biggest media
chains in both the states. Its real estate in state capital and
district and town centres is the envy of other parties. It is said no
contract or public utility work is given without the party getting its
share. In every purchase and government work the party has a fixed
percentage as its cut. The CPM’s moral indignation against the Vijayan
charge sheet has to be seen in this light.

For the record, the CPM has accused the UPA government of
trying to settle scores for withdrawing the Left’s support last July.
It might be true that as long as the Left was supporting the UPA, the
CBI went slow on the investigation. It is equally true that it was the
High Court that ordered the probe, after it was convinced that the
finding of an earlier state government ordered vigilance investigation
was inadequate. The High Court had ordered the CBI probe following
three Public Interest Litigations alleging that the state government
under the CPM was trying to cover up the investigation. The Kerala High
Court division bench while ordering the probe in January 2007,
overruled the state government’s objections and asked the CBI to take
up the probe.

The irregularities in the Lavalin contract first came to light
when a report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General in 2006 had made
some incriminating observations. The CBI inquiry was first ordered when
Oomen Chandy, the UDF chief minister, was in power. The centre did not
issue the necessary notification because of the bonhomie between the
CPM and the Congress government at the centre.

There are many in the Kerala CPM who are delighted by the fact
that nemesis is catching up with the discredited CPM politburo member.
Vijayan as state secretary is running a parallel government in the
state though the Chief Minister is also from his own party. With his
money and muscle power Vijayan had unleashed a reign of terror
annihilating both physically and politically his opponents within the
party. And because of his capacity to raise funds, and his control over
the party machinery, the central leadership so far looked the other way
despite serious allegations against him. Even the party chief minister
is a helpless victim of his shenanigans. One thing is clear. The CPM
image in the country is tarnished beyond repair as a consequence of the
corruption charges against Vijayan and the central leadership’s
inability to act against him.

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