The Vigilance Special Court ordering for a further probe against Finance Minister K M Mani has come as a bolt from the blue for Congress led UDF government who was otherwise seen riding smooth on their campaigns for the local body elections to commence within three days in the state.
The Court recently has quashed the final report filed by the Vigilance and anti-corruption bureau into the allegations that Mani took Rs 25 lakh bribe in two installments from office bearers of Bar Hotel Owner’s Association. Judge John K Illikkadan observed that there are sufficient materials for making out a prima facie case against Mani in the bar case. He also ordered R Sukeshan, Investigating Officer to further investigate the matter and “form an independent opinion expeditiously on whether or not there is case to place Mani on trial”. The decision also saw the exit of Director, VACB, Vinson M Paul. Paul said that it would morally incorrect to stay as the director of the department when court has given orders for a further probe. “The further probe in the case should be beyond any suspicion, so I thought better quitting the position” said him to reporters.
The Judge observed that KBHA working president Biju Ramesh’s driver Ambili had stated that he had witnessed handing over of the money to Mr Mani by the association’s working president, Rakjumar Unni at the minister’s resident at 7 am on April 2, 2014. KBHA treasurer Jacob Kurian had testified that John Kallat, another office-bearer, had entered Mr Mani’s house in Pala with Rs 15 lakh collected by the association on March 22, 2014. The order for a further probe has given already ripples across the poltical sphere of the state with only three days left for the first phase of local body elections to take off. Moreover, this has come as surprise to Chief Minister Oommen Chandy who always backed K M Mani not to resign his post bluffing lack of evidence against the latter.
The decision has also lead to a calamitous atmosphere in the state politics with the opposition leaders have already rallied against Mr Mani’s resignation and defending his moral right to continue in office. Though there the court decision has given way to a stoic silence in the UDF, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy came with his support for Mani. Unfazed Chandy said that too much should not be read into the verdict. “During a similar circumstance when a vigilance court made remarks against me in the Palm oil case, I didn’t resign. What I did was only to quit the portfolio then how could I demand a resignation in the similar case,” said him to the reporters. Many opposition leaders have termed it as a false claim by Mr Chandy to safe guard Mr Mani and preventing him from resigning. Opposition leader V S Achuthanandan said that Mani should not be allowed to remain in office for a day.
V S added that Chandy is perpetrating false claims by liking the bar case to that of palm oil. “No case in the history of the country has been sabotaged like this” said him. CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said that the recent verdict has shown the oppositions protest against the bar both in the assembly and outside proved valid. He demanded for a fair probe under the supervision of the court and made it clear if Mani refuses to step down, there will be stronger protest in the coming days.
Meanwhile, Mani welcomed further probe into the case but maintained that there is no need to step down from the post. He also shared his confidence that he would be exonerated if the case is probed 101 times. The veteran leader also said that the judgment by the vigilance court was not the ultimate one, but only an opinion expressed by the court.
KPCC president V M Sudheean, however, took a safe stand commending too much about the judgment and said that it won’t affect the chances of UDF in the local body elections. Senior Congress leader A K Antony has sought more time to study the order before commending anything on it.
The public have already of the opinion that by denying the court verdict Mani and Chandy are doing themselves a favour which would only back fire the chances of UDF in the local body elections. The bar case, which saw its origin from bar hotelier Biju Ramesh’s revelation to the media on October 31, 2014, saw enough twists and turns and the public fear of a further sabotage in the case in the case if Mani remains in his position as Finance Minister. With any ounce of integrity remains, UDF should remove Mani and settle the fears of an impartial probe in to the case. But it is least expected as the Government is all busy preparing to file an appeal with the High Court in the case as soon as possible.