More than two years after it first broke, Kerala’s ‘solar scam’ appears to have come to a head with a vigilance court in Thrissur ordering an investigation and the registration of a first information report against Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. The immediate reaction of the Chief Minister was to dismiss demands for his resignation, but this development has obviously rocked the United Democratic Front government and further chipped away at its legitimacy. Till this week, Mr. > Chandy had remained in the scandal’s penumbra , shrugging off allegations about his personal involvement after packing off three official aides soon after they were named as alleged go-betweens in the scam. The case draws from >charges that prime accused Saritha S. Nair> and her former partner Biju Radhakrishnan had duped investors in a solar power company they had floated. They had allegedly persuaded investors to put in money by flaunting connections with the Chief Minister’s office. Police investigators have since estimated the amount thus swindled to be around Rs.6 crore. Thursday’s court order comes on a petition by an activist after Saritha Nair deposed before the judicial commission investigating the case that >she had paid a bribe of Rs.1.9 crore to the Chief Minister through an aide. Mr. >Chandy had been questioned for more than 11 hours by the commission a day earlier and he had claimed innocence, but stopped short of agreeing to a lie detector test. With an FIR ordered, the issue has now moved beyond questions and answers. For the legitimacy of the government, in deference to the post he holds, and in the interest of a fair investigation, Mr. Chandy must resign forthwith as Chief Minister.
The > leak of audio tapes wherein the voice allegedly of one of KPCC general secretaries Thampanoor Ravi was heard tutoring Saritha Nair over the telephone, asking her to ‘play safe’ in her testimony to the inquiry commission, has compounded the case against Mr. Chandy. Significantly, two of his senior Cabinet colleagues, >K.M. Mani and >K. Babu, had recently put in their papers> as Finance Minister and Excise Minister, respectively, after adverse court orders in a bar bribery scam. (The Kerala High Court has since stayed the orders in Mr. Babu’s case.) There is no space left for Mr. Chandy to try to brazen it out and resist demands for his resignation without compromising the moral and ethical dignity of the Chief Minister’s office. It is said in Mr. Chandy’s defence that previous charges of graft and sexual favours >levelled against him by Biju Radhakrishnan before the same inquiry commission did not hold up against scrutiny. Nonetheless, Thursday’s order leaves Mr. Chandy no option but to fight his case legally. By doing so politically, and perhaps by pleading his case to his party in the run-up to Assembly elections a few months from now, he would risk drawing Kerala into a constitutional crisis.
An earlier version of this editorial referred to Thampanoor Ravi as KPCC's general secretary. He is one of the general secretaries. The KPCC has 11 people designated as general secretaries of the executive committee, apart from Umanath, who is designated as general secretary. The error is regretted.