Taunted by allegations of corruption and nepotism, the Left Democratic Front government in Kerala could have a relook at the first policy declaration of the first communist government in Kerala. One of the three matters stressed by the then chief minister E M S Namboodiripad has assumed prophetic proportions 70 years later.
“Ministers have to ensure discipline and order in their private lives and official procedures. Nothing can hamper corruption-free governance than the perception that the ministers' relatives, friends and other acquaintances such as their colleagues in politics could get things done,” EMS told the legislative assembly in 1957.
Did minister K T Jaleel live up to the words of the illustrious communist leader? Two consecutive controversies have clouded the image of the LDF government which came to power by highlighting the corruption scandals during the United Democratic Front rule.
The controversy related to the appointment of a relative of Jaleel to a key post follows close on the heels of the storm brewed by the government's permission for breweries and distilleries. Significantly, both these issues were raked up by the opposition, which seems to have woken up from its comfort zone where it was content with following up on the matters reported in the media.
While opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala put the government in a bind in the brewery controversy, Muslim League's young leader P K Firoz targeted Jaleel. The government's firefighting has a pattern too. It nixed the decision to grant licences to the breweries and distilleries and sacked Jaleel's relative. The government seems to be backtracking on controversial decisions and saving the decision-makers.
Pushed into a corner
Jaleel found himself in a tighter spot with the revelation that he had directly interfered to ensure that his relative was appointed as the general manager of the Kerala State Minority Development Finance Corporation. He chose not to defend himself when confronted by the media on Wednesday, probably because he did not want to rub the CPM leadership the wrong way. Some party leaders are of the opinion that the issue was handled ineptly. Even the CPI disagrees with the way Jaleel responded to the attacks.
Jaleel, however, is still in the good books of the CPM. He is a rallying cry for the anti-Muslim League forces in Malappuram. He is a bridge for the party to various Muslim denominations. The former Muslim League leader is more useful to the party than veteran communist Paloli Muhammed Kutty.
Yet Jaleel is not able to shake off the baggage he has brought from the Muslim League. He tends to side with his local support system in Malappuram even at the expense of his new party.
Jaleel was relieved of the local administration portfolio only after a barrage of allegations against him. The party justified the action by claiming that the minister was overburdened. He may be wondering if he had lost his image after the loss of the portfolio. He explained to the party that the allegations were a way of getting even with him for his decision to unearth the irregularities at the Minority Development Finance Corporation, which was set up by the Muslim League in 2013. He said that he had found that several Muslim League members had failed to repay the loans taken from the corporation.
The CPM is unlikely to wash its hands of Jaleel. The minister is on sticky wicket though.
Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan is known as a man of his words. He seldom backtracks from a decision. He did so in case of the brewery-distillery controversy. He initially justified excise minister T P Ramakrishnan's orders but later scrapped them.
Even the chief minister found himself at the receiving end of allegations by the opposition. Allegations are nothing new in the history of governments in Kerala. Even the EMS government was not free from charges. What has changed is the way the establishment deals with the charges.
The party was proactive when E P Jayarajan was accused of appointing a relative to a key post. That will was lacking in dealing with subsequent allegations.