If the opposition UDF had branded the LDF government the most corrupt ever while boycotting the Governor's address on January 8, the ruling LDF used the first Question Hour of the ongoing Budget session to revive a slew of corruption charges, both serious and unfounded, against the opposition members.
The gameplan was clear: Paint the UDF as an irredeemably corrupt lot.
The Question Hour, which normally witnesses brief questions of members and prepared answers of ministers, on Tuesday turned out to be just like an Assembly discussion where members traded charges and counter charges, some of them wild and rhetorical.
The Hour began with CPM's D K Murali asking for the names of MLAs against whom corruption and cheating cases have been registered. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan gave the names of UDF MLAs V S Sivakumar, V K Ibrahim Kunji and M C Kamarudheen, and said investigations were on. Four LDF MLAs were also on the list: Pratibha Hari (Kayamkulam), P Unni (Ottapalam), E S Bijimol (Peerumedu) and P V Anwar (Nilambur).
However, the bite was in the follow-up questions. These posers saw the names of prominent UDF leaders being dragged in: Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala, former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, V D Satheesan, P T Thomas and Anoop Jacob.
The Chief Minister did not have official dope on many of these charges but used the opportunity to keep top UDF leaders in a shadow of doubt.
About Ramesh Chennithala, Vijayan said a secret probe had been conducted to verify the "new revelations" made by bar owner Biju Ramesh that he had bribed Chennithala to prevent a bar licence fee hike. "On the basis of this, the Vigilance has sought permission for a preliminary probe. We are examining this," the chief minister said. "It should also be noted that the Opposition leader has approached the governor asking him to deny such a permission," he added.
Chennithala said his name has figured only in a CD and this was found to be fake by the Vigilance. He said a government steeped in corruption was vainly trying to paint the opposition in their own colours. This allowed Vijayan to indulge in some emotional rhetoric. "You are challenging our collective memory. Do you think we have forgotten what happened between 2011 and 2016? The government was a den of corruption then. Didn't people consider you a curse," Vijayan said.
The UDF, too, had its moments. Even Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan had found no merit in the charge against Paravur MLA V D Satheesan but CPM's James Mathew still wanted to know the progress of the case against Satheesan.
Fact is, the Speaker has found the materials collected as evidence against Satheesan too inadequate and had sought more details. But the chief minister, hinting that the charge was very grave, said the Vigilance had limitations as the case involved foreign contributions.
The charge against Satheesan is that he had violated the Foreign Contribution Regulations Act by travelling to foreign countries seeking funds for the construction of houses for the flood-affected families of his constituency.
Satheesan said he had facilitated the construction of 200 homes under the Punarjani Project instituted by him. "I had not opened any account for this. The contributors either constructed the houses directly and in cases where they gave the money, we handed over the money to a panel of contractors we had drawn up," he said. "The case against me was dismissed right at the admission stage by both the single bench and division bench of the High Court. The CBI did conduct a preliminary probe and informed the court it was not worth considering. If the Speaker had asked for more details from the Vigilance, it was only because he did not find any merit in the charge," he added.
The chief minister did not respond to any of Satheesan's statements. In fact, when LDF members raised charges against P K Kunhalikutty and Adoor Prakash, the chief minister merely said he did not have the necessary documents with him.
Former minister Anoop Jacob, too, said the Vigilance had not found any substance in the charges raised against him. Vijayan did not respond to this either.
However, the chief minister said the refusal of the CBI to take up the Travancore Titanium Products corruption case smacked of a secret Congress-BJP understanding.
The reasons they have given for not taking up the TTP case hints that they have already made up their mind, the chief minister said. He said the CBI had said that it would be difficult to trace the officials of Mecon, the company that won the contract for waste treatment in the Titanium plant, as they had either retired or left the company. The CBI had also said it would be difficult to fix responsibility as the decision was taken by the director board.