Openness and transparency are great virtues in governance, but by themselves they do not guarantee an efficient administration. Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy assumed his accessibility as head of government will complement his simplicity as a politician and help him through his five-year term without a whiff of controversy. But after two years at the helm of the Congress-led United Democratic Front government, Mr. Chandy finds his carefully-constructed image of a people’s chief minister in tatters under the glare of the solar panel scam involving members of his own staff. Those who gained easy access to the Chief Minister’s Office were not just ordinary folk with grievances and petitions, but also fraudsters who leveraged their proximity to Mr. Chandy’s staff in order to dupe several people into investing in non-existent solar and wind-mill energy projects. Suddenly, what was earlier seen as accessibility turned out to be laxity, the simplicity more like naïveté. That his personal assistants and security personnel have been directly linked to the scam makes the situation extremely uncomfortable for Mr. Chandy. It is no longer enough for him to say he has not been accused or charged by any investigating agency or court. If indeed he wants to clear his name in this sordid episode, a judicial inquiry is necessary. Merely protesting his innocence won’t do.
For a coalition government surviving on a thin majority, a scam of this proportion could spell real trouble. Sensing an opportunity to take the initiative, the Left Democratic Front was quick to call for Mr. Chandy’s resignation. The CPI (M) and other Left parties are now planning to lay an indefinite siege of the Secretariat. The more the Chief Minister stalls an impartial inquiry, the greater will be the pressure on him to step down. Another worry for the Chief Minister emanates from within his own camp. The UDF is a group of opportunistic allies who have often forced the hand of the Congress high command against chief ministers with a dipping popularity graph. Mr. Chandy is not short of rivals even within his own party: the president of the State unit of the Congress, Ramesh Chennithala, is waiting in the wings should circumstances require a new head of government. The LDF may or may not be able to gain much from the scam before the 2014 Lok Sabha election. But if Mr. Chandy fails to play his cards well, his losses could be more immediate. Popular perceptions of guilt might be enough for the Congress high command to want to ring in a change in Kerala. The more he lets the situation drift, the more untenable his position becomes.