The solar case is back into the limelight after the State government has decided to hand over the probe to the Central Bureau of Investigation recently.
The State government issued the order to transfer six cases to the central agency on January 24.
Senior Congress leaders Oommen Chandy, KC Venugopal, A P Anilkumar MLA, MPs Adoor Prakash and Hibi Eden and BJP national vice-president A P Abdulla Kutty were the accused in the case which pertains to the alleged sexual exploitation of a woman entrepreneur.
The Left Democratic Front (LDF) is sure to make the probe a political issue in the upcoming Assembly election.
Oommen Chandy, however, says he is least perturbed by the government decision. In an exclusive interview with N K Gireesh of Manorama News, he said his conscience is clear as he has not done anything wrong.
He said the Pinarayi Vijayan government did not investigate the case despite being in power for the last five years. “I am sure that people will think and ponder why the government hasn’t taken any action against us for five years,” he said.
He also said that he does not think Pinarayi is exacting revenge on him for ordering a CBI probe into the SNC-Lavalin case in 2006. “I don’t think Pinaryi is taking revenge for that,” he said.
Edited excerpts from the interview
Solar case is back in the limelight with the Kerala government deciding to hand the probe to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). How will you challenge it politically?
The Pinarayi Vijayan government did not investigate the case despite being in power for the last five years. Now, it has decided to hand over the case to CBI at the fag end of its tenure.
The government had tabled Justice Sivarajan Commission report in the Assembly in November 2017. It hurriedly announced a probe even without doing proper homework. Then I approached the Kerala High Court. The court accepted my plea. [The High Court had ordered the removal of 25-page letter and complainant’s remarks against Oommen Chandy in May 2018].
The government should have appealed if it had a problem with the High Court’s verdict. Instead, it had waited for long to record the statements of the complainant and register the case. It even included non-bailable sections in the FIR. It meant that the police could have arrested us any time. We neither tried to cancel the FIR nor sought anticipatory bail. The FIR was registered on October 20, 2018. The FIR is valid even now and the police could arrest us anytime.
Meanwhile, the complainant told the media that she did not get justice. Her outburst was directed at the chief minister who had failed to take action despite investigations by three DGPs. None of them called us for interrogation. So, I want to pose two questions to the chief minister. Why didn’t you appeal against the High Court verdict that wasn’t in your favor? Why didn’t you take any action despite registering an FIR and three highest-ranked officers probing the case?
How do you plan to face the people when your political opponents use solar scam in the run up to the election?
I am sure that people will think and ponder why the government hasn’t taken any action against us for five years. It didn’t appeal the High Court verdict or arrest us because it does not have any proof. These are fabricated stories and there is no truth in it.
Do you think Pinarayi Vijayan is seeking revenge as you had initiated action in the SNC Lavalin case just before the 2006 election?
I don’t think so. That case [SNC Lavalin] was investigated by the vigilance, a portfolio handled by the chief minister. The vigilance had freedom to investigate thoroughly and submit the report. Pinarayi Vijayan was in fact acquitted in that report. But, the election was announced on the day the report was handed in. The next day, a noted newspaper ran an eight column front page story with the heading ‘Hum Sab Chor Hain’ (All of us are thieves). It meant that both the government and the opposition were corrupt and were involved in the Lavalin case. We had already convened a cabinet meet in the morning and knew that elections would be declared in the evening. So, a decision had been taken to hand over the case to the CBI as none of us had any role in it. It wasn’t meant to hurt anyone unnecessarily or make needless interventions. It just happened that the election too was announced on the same day. We had sent the request to the UPA government only because of the news article. We didn’t want to leave any stones unturned. However, we didn’t do any follow up and let it take its own course. The center had dismissed the request for a probe.
Do you think Pinarayi Vijayan didn’t return that political courtesy to you?
Later, someone approached the court and it ordered a CBI enquiry into the scandal.
Do you see any merit in handing over Solar case to CBI especially as the state government has been criticizing the central agencies for unnecessarily targeting people?
We will not question the probe as we aren’t scared of the CBI. We would face the CBI probe as confidently as we had faced the FIR and the state government’s investigation.
Are you worried about the probe as the BJP is in power at the centre?
I am not worried at all as I always believe that there is nothing to worry if you haven’t done anything wrong. Had there been any truth in the solar case, the government wouldn’t have spared us.
Do you suspect a conspiracy as many other leaders including AICC member KC Venugopal too have been accused?
I don’t suspect anything. I only see it as a trick played by the state government to hide its failure. As far as we are concerned, we are prepared to face it.
Do you suspect that the complainant is conspiring with the CPM leaders?
I don’t intend to blame or accuse anyone. However, the people are watching everything. They would realize the truth and falsehood in it.
Biju Radhakrishnan had met you to discuss an incident related to KB Ganesh Kumar. However, you didn’t reveal anything about it. Then, the complainant had asked why you had chosen to take all the blame. Will you, at least now, reveal what Biju Radhakrishnan had said that day?
Biju Radhakrishnan was accompanied by a person whom I did not know. I thought the person was his relative or a close friend as they had talked about private and family matters that couldn’t be revealed. It was only later, after the investigation was announced, that I realized that the person who accompanied him was a journalist. That person too was interrogated by the commission and whatever we had spoken that day had been revealed. However, I do not wish to reveal it myself.
Is there any truth in what has been revealed?
They have said everything.
You have protected a lot of people including Ganesh Kumar, but later they turned against you. What do you have to say about it?
All these are part of life. What matters is to have a clear conscience. There is no need to be sacred if you are innocent.
Is there enough time to convince the people, especially since you are heading the campaigns?
I don’t have any difficulty in convincing the people as they have been closely watching it. I am not defending myself. But the people would surely wonder why Pinarayi Vijayan didn’t take any action if there had been any proof against me. They would surely think why the government hadn’t arrested me despite wielding the power. No one would think that I am innocent only because I have refuted the allegations.
How supportive is the party in this issue?
I have the wholehearted support of the party. I had dissuaded the party from showing its support prominently. Ramesh Chennithala, who was the PCC president then, had called for a hartal when stones were thrown at me in Kannur. From the hospital bed I had called him and requested to call off the hartal. Why would the common people suffer just because I got injured? I believe that we shouldn’t bother the party for our personal difficulties.
Many say that Ramesh Chennithala has lost his grip after you took over the campaign committee. What do you do to make him active again?
That is not true at all. This committee doesn’t have any political significance; but it is vital when it comes to the elections. It is not an individual’s, but a team of leaders and their joint effort to face this election.
However, a chief minister candidate has to be projected, right?
It is the Congress High Command that takes decisions on it. Ramesh Chennithala has been performing well as the Leader of Opposition. Many tried to trivialize and ignore him, but whatever he has said has turned out to be true.
Did you intervene to give a prominent role to Shashi Tharoor in the forthcoming elections?
It was a joint decision and the High Command too was interested. Not just in Kerala, Tharoor has a huge pan-India appeal. Both the Kerala leadership and the High Command are interested in making use of that as there are a huge number of people who are positively inspired by him.
What happened to Congress in the local body polls though the party had won big in the Lok Sabha elections?
In the local body polls, there is a tendency to field rebels alongside the official candidates. So, it is bound to make some losses. However, compared with performance in 2015, the party did not fare too badly. We got 23 more village panchayats than last time. We got an equal number of municipalities this time. Last time, we won only one cooperation; we got one this time too. However, we lost quite a few district and block panchayats.
The BJP has been making inroads in the places where Congress didn’t fare well, especially in constituencies like Nemam, which was represented by Karunakaran once. How do you evaluate this political trend?
BJP has been trying to gain political significance using their influence in the Center. Only Congress can fight them in India. The same could be said about Kerala too. We had successfully blocked them in the Parliament elections; we would do that for the Assembly elections too.
After the previous assembly elections, there had been a change in the generation of leadership. But as the elections are looming, it has been reversed with Kunhalikutty and you making a comeback. Moreover, the chief minister even wondered whether the Muslim League heads the UDF now. How do you see it?
UDF has decided to give field more youngsters and I assure you that the candidate list would truly reflect it. The chief minister had made an unfortunate statement about Kunhalikutty. He has been blabbering a lot since the assembly elections had been announced. I don’t understand why he is so scared of the elections. The significance of Congress has only grown as the BJP has been proving that they couldn’t uphold the ideals of secularism and democracy. Even the other parties in the opposition are looking up to the Congress when it comes to fighting BJP. Chief minister’s statements like this only prove the Marxist party’s blind hatred for Congress when we are trying to focus on Indian politics.
Isn’t there a complaint that Congress has been giving undue importance to the Muslim League?
It is a baseless criticism as Congress is committed to give due respect and opportunities to their allies. Being the second largest ally in the alliance, the Muslim League would be given the respect and appropriate opportunities that they deserve. We receive the same support back from the League. This unity is behind the success of the alliance.
Do you think Kunhalikutty’s return to state politics would be an added benefit?
Kunhalikutty is a leader who has been giving valuable contributions for the UDF. Be it in Delhi or in Kerala, his contributions are significant for the UDF.
Will you and Ramesh Chennithala contest in the forthcoming assembly elections?
Ramesh Chennithala would definitely contest as he is the opposition leader. Party will decide my candidature.
Wouldn’t you contest from Puthuppally especially since you have completed 50 years as an MLA?
The party has given me countless opportunities. Moreover, I am grateful to the party and the voters of Puthuppally for their love. I believe that the party has given me more than what I deserve.
What would be the party’s main campaign issue?
The failure of the left government in the last five years would definitely be the main campaign issue. They have pushed the state into an abyss of debt due to their wrong policies.
Will UDF continue KIIFB and projects like Life Mission if it comes to power?
It is a good thing that more than 2 lakh houses were built under Life Mission. But, they forget that the UDF, through its various housing projects, had given more than 4 lakh 21 thousand homes in five years. We had introduced many schemes through which the central housing projects would be executed through panchayats and municipalities to provide housing for poor people including fishermen and scheduled caste people.