Thiruvananthapuram: Politics, as is being practised, is the art of tactfully side-stepping the trap of uncomfortable questions. This being the case, the CPM's behaviour in the recent past, on the face of it, looks baffling.
Thrice, in the last two weeks, it seemed as if the party was unthinkingly walking into avoidable traps. A closer look would reveal that the first time (Saji Cheriyan's Constitution-bashing) it was accidental, the second time (Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's outrage that his daughter's name was dragged into the Assembly) it was near suicidal and the third time (M M Mani's remarks against K K Rema) it was a shrewd, even if in a crude way, attempt to avoid infinitely more damning questions.
Cheriyan's constitutional defect
Former culture minister Saji Cheriyan's ridicule of the Indian Constitution came during a local party event, a very intimate gathering of party workers on July 3. It was almost as if Cheriyan was talking to friends on a bench outside a local tea shop. All of a sudden, Cheriyan's blasphemy clogged the air-time, edging out disturbing questions about the smuggling of gold through the diplomatic route and the hurling of a low-potency crude bomb at the AKG Centre.
By delaying Cheriyan's resignation, and thereby amplifying the controversy, the CPM sought to shift the limelight from questions that were causing it serious unease. In other words, the party allowed one of its leaders' momentary lapse of judgment to simmer for a while so that troubling political questions would be set aside at least for some time.
Pinarayi's 'Great Father' moment
By the time Cheriyan made his loose remarks, it was clear Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's outburst against Congress legislator Mathew Kuzhalnadan in the Assembly on June 28 had backfired.
Kuzhalnadan had argued that it was through PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) that one of the prime accused in the gold smuggling scandal, Swapna Suresh, entered the close circles of the LDF government. Before Swapna's appointment in the IT Department came under a cloud, Kuzhalnadan said the website of the Chief Minister's daughter's company, Exalogic, had shown Jaik Balakumar, the director of PwC, as Veena Vijayan's mentor. After the controversy broke out, the website went down. When it returned, he said the PwC director's mention vanished.
The Chief Minister could have casually brushed aside the charge saying that Jaik was just one of the many directors of PwC and that his daughter, who was running an IT company, knew him professionally. Instead, Vijayan took on the bearing of a deeply hurt and vengeful father. He called Kuzhalnadan's statement a “glaring lie”.
“What did you think, that I would be badly rattled if you talk about my daughter? What you said was a glaring lie. My daughter has never said that such a person was her mentor,” the chief minister said. When Kuzhalnadan got up and asked for a chance to speak, the chief minister shot back: “What is it that you want to say? Is it to repeat this nonsense?”
If the show of emotional outrage was an attempt to deter any further criticism of his family, the effect it actually had was the opposite. The very next day, on June 29, Kuzhalnadan called the media, and in front of them, exhumed an old page of Exalogic's website to prove he was not lying. The page did describe Jaik as mentor and guide of Veena Vijayan.
Kuzhalnadan went further. He moved a breach of privilege motion against the Chief Minister for lying inside the Assembly. Speaker M B Rajesh has now sought Vijayan's response to Kuzhalnadan's motion. The Cheriyan episode, which erupted soon after, had kept the embarrassment caused by Kuzhalnadan suppressed for a while.
Unanswered questions pile up
By the second week of July the other controversies had died down and it was clear the Chief Minister will have to face tough questions about both the gold smuggling scandal and the AKG Centre bomb blast.
During the discussion on the gold smuggling issue on June 28, the Chief Minister had conveniently ignored some of the pointed UDF posers. Here are some: What prevented the Chief Minister and his family from moving legally against Swapna Suresh for hurling grave charges against them? Why did the Chief Minister, also the Home Minister, say in a reply to the Assembly that he was not aware that Sarith, another accused, was whisked away from his house by a Vigilance team? Why was a defamation case not slapped on Shaj Kiran even after he made allegations of money laundering against the Chief Minister and the CPM State Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan? Why did the Chief Minister prefer the diplomatic route to transport his bag when the Kerala Government had its own official means to do it?
On July 12, Speaker M B Rajesh had spared the Chief Minister from answering a tricky question on a CBI enquiry into the gold smuggling scandal in the Assembly by rejecting a Submission on the issue moved by Opposition Leader V D Satheesan.
Mani enters, in the nick of time
Then, there was what the UDF termed the “inexplicable failure” to nab the culprits behind the AKG Centre bomb attack. The UDF got a chance to repeat all of these questions on July 14, during the discussion on the Chief Minister's Police and Jail Departments. The Chief Minister was supposed to reply to all these posers. Even if the Chief Minister were to ignore them, top sources said the Opposition Leader was determined to make the Chief Minister go on record.
But just before the Chief Minister could reply, M M Mani made those infamous remarks about Rema's fate. With Mani refusing to apologise, the Opposition had no choice but to boycott the Assembly proceedings. This left the Chief Minister free to respond in a manner he thought fit. None of the difficult questions raised by the UDF members were touched upon.
The Pinarayi ministry was let off the hook, yet again. The CPM will also not lose sleep over the public backlash against M M Mani's regressive comments against Rema and the party's refusal to correct him. This is because the party had never been apologetic about the attacks it had unleashed against people it had branded 'class betrayers'.