The CPM in Kerala does not have fond memories of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) or the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). That perhaps explains the refusal by the party state secretariat and the state committee to discuss the controversy surrounding a CAG report that has put the home department in the dock.
Yet the party members of the top decision making bodies in Kerala have no choice but to defend the organization and the government in primetime television debates. The party and the government have sought to brush aside the charges raised by the CAG or the opposition’s demand for a CBI probe into the charges. The government has said the report could be vetted by the legislative Public Accounts Committee as per norms.
This approach is strange, considering the CPM’s declared stand against corruption at high places. The party has never insisted on procedure while a CAG report was tabled in Parliament or a legislative assembly. The party politburo has detailed the action to be taken when the UPA II government faced serious charges of corruption from the CAG.
Interestingly, the Congress-led opposition in Kerala is raising the same demand, that of a CBI probe, raised by the CPM politburo while allegations related to Air India were raised against the central government. The CPM had taken a tough stance when the CAG pointed at irregularities in Chhattisgarh during the term of the Raman Singh government.
The CPM wanted the ouster of the Pondicherry University registrar when the CAG raked up irregularities in the university. Yet it sought to protect Kerala police chief Lokanath Behera who came under a needle of suspicion. The Left Democratic Front government could not claim to be led by the CPM’s declared policies.
The CPM-led LDF led its campaign against the previous Oommen Chandy government based on a single point: corruption. The LDF sought a mandate in the 2016 assembly election to make Kerala corruption-free. The Pinarayi Vijayan government has claimed that it has wiped off corruption from the top echelons of the administration. That image has been dented by the CAG report. The party’s silence on the matter has not helped.
Though a previous CAG report related to an electricity infrastructure modernisation deal with Canada’s SNC-Lavalin was challenged by many quarters, Pinarayi questioned the credibility of the report only two years ago. The report had led to a CBI probe against Pinarayi and others.
Facing the opposition barbs on the SNC-Lavalin deal in the assembly in August 2017, Pinarayi said that the accountant general’s report was part of a conspiracy against him. The party has again questioned the credibility of the institution when the police chief comes under the scanner. Behera is a trusted officer of the Pinarayi government.
The party has had a relevant point to make: How did Congress MLA P T Thomas came to know of the contents of the CAG report even before it was tabled in the house? Thomas was the marksman to attack the government on the CAG but the opposition was caught off guard when the government tabled the report the very next day.
The public accounts committee, chaired by Congress leader V D Satheesan, is empowered to summon any officer, including Behera, as part of fact finding. But the proceedings will take at least three months to complete. In fact, the government could delay it further. After all, even the CAG was under pressure to delay the publication of the report that pointed a finger at the state police.
The accountant general, S Sunil Raj, became a newsmaker for obvious reasons. He named Behera in a news conference. An alumnus of the Union Christian College in Aluva, Sunil Raj is the son of former superintendent of police, T M Soma Rajan.