With Chandy facing 'solar heat', all eyes on assembly session

Thiruvananthapuram, July 5 (IANS) With the Kerala assembly session set to resume on Monday, all eyes are on whether the left opposition will keep up the "solar heat" on Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, an issue that forced Speaker G. Karthikeyan to adjourn the house midway for two weeks last month.

Chandy has been under severe attack from his political adversaries after two of his staffers were found to have links with a con-couple involved in a cheating scam. The issue rocked the assembly for all of 10 days last month, forcing its adjournment midway through the session.

"He (Chandy) is making his staff members scapegoats. How can he run away from his responsibilities," asked Leader of Opposition and Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader V.S. Achuthanandan, who has been demanding the chief minister's resignation and a judicial probe into the scandal.

Since the arrest of Saritha S. Nair and her live-in partner Biju Radhakrishnan in the scam, three staffers have been booted out of the chief minister's office, with one cooling his heels in jail.

The con-couple promised solar panels to people willing to invest in their Team Solar company but failed to deliver the equipment after collecting crores of rupees from them.

According to the police, the staffers - personal assistants to Chandy Tenny Jopan (now arrested) and Jikumon Jacob and guard Salim Raj - were used by the con-couple to garner the confidence of their prospective investors.

Chandy, who does not own a mobile phone and often used the phones of the three tainted staffers, is on the backfoot after a probe team told him that Jopan spoke to Nair more than 800 times while Raj and Jacob spoke to her more than 400 times on their mobile phones in the past 15 months.

After the fiasco, Chandy has decided to acquire his own mobile phone.

Ever since the scandal broke, Chandy has time and again maintained he has done no wrong.

"People know me very well and that's my strength. Whatever is being circulated now is falling to pieces one by one. The truth will emerge because the truth alone will triumph. My conscience is very clear that I have done no wrong; so I will not be cowed down by all these protests," Chandy told IANS.

Chandy's track record as a politician, despite being the troubleshooter on many occasions and even the party's main fund raiser, has not caused him any damage. He has been a legislator from Puthupally since 1970 without a break and till now the only post that has not come his way is in the party.

Amid Achuthanandan's demand for his resignation, the only consolation for Chandy is that the con-couple reportedly began their operations when the Left government was in office (2006-11) and no probe was ordered even though some cases were registered against the duo.

Kerala Home Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan is also in the line of fire as TV channels have now aired his call details revealing that he too was contacted by Nair. Besides, pictures have surfaced of his participating in the house warming ceremony of Shalu Menon, a popular dancer and film actress, whose involvement with the con-couple has come to light.

"She (Menon) should be arrested as a portion of the loot has been taken away by her," Kerala government chief whip P.C. George contended.

Kerala CPI-M secretary Pinarayi Vijayan said the only way out of this is for Chandy to quit and face a probe.

"The involvement has now crossed the doorstep of his office and has reached inside. It's only fair that he step down and face a probe. Only if he quits can the probe go forward and hence there is no other way out," Vijayan told reporters here.

There have been fresh revelations this week that Nair had contacted some ministers in the Chandy cabinet, including A.P. Anil Kumar (tourism) and Adoor Prakash (revenue), besides top political leaders like state Congress president Ramesh Chennithala and a few legislators.

One thing is for sure: This is an issue that will linger a while, keeping Chandy on his toes.

(Sanu George can be contacted at sanu.g@ians.in)