New Delhi/Thiruvananthapuram: Left-backed Independent minister K T Jaleel's bid to hang on to the Pinarayi Vijayan Cabinet failed as both the national and state leadership of the CPM decided to uphold the Lok Ayukta ruling against him despite having an option to challenge it in a higher court.
Jaleel, who held the portfolios of High Education and Minority Welfare, resigned from the Kerala Government's Council of Ministers on Tuesday, days after the Lok Ayukta found him guilty of nepotism and observed that he had no right to continue in office.
Earlier the State leadership was quick to distance itself from Law Minister A K Balan’s statement supporting Jaleel. Balan said that Jaleel need not step down since he had decided to approach the High Court against the Lok Ayukta verdict.
The CPM, though red-faced over two nepotistic appointment rows during its five-year term in office, has now been citing political propriety to justify Jaleel’s resignation though his writ petition against the Lok Ayukta verdict was before the High Court.
Tainted CPM ministers
Earlier in 2016, Kerala Minister for Industries E P Jayarajan became the first CPM minister in the LDF Government to quit. The Central Committee (CC) member resigned over charges of favouritism. Two years later on October 21, former minister of Tripura and another CC member Badal Choudhury was arrested in a Rs 640 crore PWD scam.
The CPM, however, did not act against Choudhury since it considered him to be a victim of BJP’s political vengeance. Choudhury got bail from the High Court of Tripura in February 2020, after 87 days in detention.
In 2016, the Central leadership had decided on Jayarajan's fate even before he informed the State secretariat of his willingness to step down. In his report to the CC, the then State secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said Jayarajan had backed a relative’s appointment without consulting the party.
It was alleged that Jayarajan appointed his nephew, P K Sudheer Nambiar, as the Managing Director of Kerala Industrial Enterprises Ltd (KIEL). The appointment of his brother’s daughter-in-law, too, also caused an uproar.
Though Jayarajan apologized for the mistake, the CC decided to publically censure him. The decision was considered to be a win for the faction led by Sitaram Yechury, the CPM General Secretary. The faction of former national General Secretary Prakash Karat and Pinarayi Vijayan was against initiating party-level action against the Kannur strongman.
The government decided to go soft on Jayarajan after CPM felt changes in party equations in Kannur. The then Home Secretary had contacted the Vigilance Director over the phone and asked to change the sections under which the case was registered. The Secretary pointed out that Nambiar had not joined KIEL, but only an attempt was made to appoint him by flouting rules.
It was also instructed to initiate only disciplinary action against the then Secretary of Industries Department. Though the suggested changes were not put into effect, Jayarajan got relief from the High Court.
CPM feared a double whammy
Meanwhile in the case of Jaleel, the CPM state leadership acted fearing a double whammy. If the High Court delivered a verdict against Jaleel, it would have ramifications within the party and the LDF. Also, it could have an adverse effect on Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who had approved Jaleel’s move to appoint his cousin.
Additionally, protecting the minister would have paved the way for the accusation that the CPM was following double standards in the cases of Jaleel and Jayarajan. It was under these considerations that the CPM, which recommended Jaleel to challenge the Lok Ayukta in the High Court, sought his resignation.
Chief Minister Vijayan received the Lok Ayukta order, which held Jaleel guilty of abuse of power, nepotism and violation of the oath of office, on Monday. The order also said Jaleel was unfit to continue in office.
Though the chief minister knew he was responsible for implementing the order, he gave Jaleel an opportunity to approach the higher court.
Significance of Lok Ayukta order
If the Lok Ayukta order was not implemented the complainant could approach the anti-corruption body again with a contempt of court petition. CPM decided to wash its hands of Jaleel following allegations that he had committed the irregularities with the knowledge of the chief minister.
The Lok Ayukta order was based on a complaint by V K Muhammed Shafi, an Edappal resident.
Party opposed, CM withdrew support
Jaleel tried to explore legal loopholes to overrule the Lok Ayukta ruling and it was with this intention that he approached the High Court. Possible opportunities he might have if LDF retains power, too, was under consideration.
Jaleel, however, did not anticipate an opposition from the CPM. Additionally, he believed that the chief minister would protect him even if the party opposed his continuation as minister.
Once he realized that he won’t have the chief minister’s protection anymore, he decided to step down. Additionally, CPM’s declared stand on Lok Ayukta and the fact that its ruling should be mandatorily implemented, too, went against Jaleel’s interests. The CPM went on the defensive after evidence proved that the chief minister was aware of the appointment of Jaleel’s cousin, K T Adeeb, and didn't oppose the minister's bid to tweak the eligibility norms in this regard.