Neutralising Lokpal legislation: attempt begins in Kerala Sunday, Jul 3 2011 

Balakrishna Pillai

Balakrishna Pillai, who was sentenced to one year's imprisonment for corruption

While the civil society is pressing for the Lokpal Bill to check corruption, the Kerala government is finding an innovative method to free corrupt politicians from jail through the backdoor.

The plan is to free R. Balakrishnan Pillai, Kerala Congress (B) leader condemned for corruption, from jail on the ground that he is past 70 years of age. To appear to be fair, the government also plans to release other prisoners who are past 70 from jail. The implications can be far-reaching as this becomes a precedent for future releases. Even now, murderers need to be in jail only for 10 years get a release. In future, a murderer can immediately be out of jail if he is past 70 by the time he is sentenced.  We know that convictions can be delayed by several years in our system.  So, if you are past 65, you can murder anybody with immunity.

In the case of politicians, most of the Ministers and leaders heading government agencies would not have to fear anti-corruption law, whether it is Lokpal or any other law. Many of them become ministers or occupy important posts past 50 years of age.  Going by the experience of investigation and trial of the palmolein case, we know that it is not difficult to delay verdicts on corruption cases by two decades.

Though there had been many allegations of corruption against politicians in the State, Balakrishna Pillai is the only person who could be convicted. Now, even he would be out of jail. Thus, politicians would have to fear no law unless he is too young like P. K. Jayalekshmi (Minister for Tribal Affairs who is less 30 years of age)! Almost all the politicians, who are facing corruption charges in Oommen Chandy’s ministry and past ministries could escape jail, if convicted.

No need to add that the Government move will seriously undermine the rule of the law in the State.

The Baba and the black money Monday, Jun 6 2011 

Baba Ramdev

Baba Ramdev

The Government of India has nearly called the bluff of Baba Ramdev and his satyagrapha.

We saw the satyagrahi running away, wearing a woman’s attire and trying to escape from the police. Obviously, the five-star satyagrahi could bear a mild assault by the police. His followers too did not have the courage to stand their ground against police.

Satyagraha is the tool of fearless.  Gandhiji had often stressed the importance of fearlessness in the struggle against the British. Could one think of Mahatama Gandhi, on a satyagraha, running away from the British police? Or his trying to hide? Would he and his followers have shifted the satyagrapha venue even if they were in small numbers?

But a posse of Delhi police could drive away a 50000-strong crowd and Ramdev. This suggests that there were somebody behind pushing Ramdev to the show. He himself would not have volunteered for the show but for the pressure. That is because he is apparently not a courageous person.

It is also clear that those who need the comforts of air-conditioners cannot withstand the rigours of a fight against corruptionnd black money. The government correctly assessed that the agitation could not grow beyond the comforts of air cooled pandals or ashramam. Also, watch the Baba trying to win the protection of Mayavati, who herself had been accused of corruption, for continuing the satyagraha at Noida. That much for the fight against corruption!

This is not to say that the Congress had not been badly mauled. The Congress has no shields against the allegations of corruption faced by Ministers of the UPA government. The Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is seen as shielding or incapable of taking action against corrupt ministers. There is nagging doubts among public that UPA leaders too are among those who had slashed money abroad. Whether the Baba is effective or not in his fight against corruption and black money, it would be an uphill, if not impossible, task for the Congress to cleanse itself.

Oommen Chandy in a bad patch Sunday, Feb 13 2011 

Opposition Leader Oommen Chandy is going through a bad patch. His march to save Kerala from the clutches of the LDF (misrule) had started with all the hopes of returning to power. However, at the end, he is seen protecting Muslim League leader Mr. P. K. Kunhalikutty against whom allegations have resurfaced. He has also taken the baggage of Kerala Congress leader Mr. R. Balakrishna Pillai, who had been sentenced to one year’s rigorous imprisonment, on his self.

At the same time, Chief Minister Mr. V. S. Achuthandnan has emerged as one who has at least done something to punish the corrupt and hold those who commit crimes against women accountable. After abysmal rule for five years, he is at least demonstrating that he could be the Opposition Leader for another term!

On the other hand, Congress is gearing up to pay a high price by supporting Mr. Pilliai and Mr. Kunhalikutty. Already, Congress Member of Parliament K. Sudhakaran has joined the bandwagon to abuse V. S. Achuthanandan for preferring the petition against Mr. Pillai and the Supreme Court for handing down the verdict.

This is when the Congress government at the Centre is facing strictures from the Supreme Court in matters like the 2G spectrum allotment. People are sure to see through the game plan to discredit the Court. (Corruption has indeed the entered the Supreme Court and nation is pivoted on the debate in that regard. And the Congress is trying to take advantage of the situation.)

In the case of Mr.Kunhalikutty, a sizable section of the League leaders do not want him. League would do better without Mr. Kunhalikutty than with him in the next elections. However, the Congress is providing him the support to hang on.

All these only reinforces the worsening image o f Congress at the national level in the eyes of voters of Kerala as the State goes to polls in two moths time.

Chief Minister VS embraces constitutionality Tuesday, Feb 3 2009 

Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan with a few of his Cabinet colleagues

Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan with Cabinet colleagues

Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan has taken an unassailable position. He has stated that he is not only a party functionary but also a Constitutional functionary elected to carry out Constitutional duties. The call of duty finds him at variance with the party policy.

This is something unprecedented in the CPI (M). Under communist rule, party controlled the Chief Minister not the Constitution. He hardly ever carried out his duties without fear or favour towards the party. Now, Achuthanandan, the staunch communist, has defied the communist tradition with immense consequence to the party.

Though party principles and Constitutional principles were at odds with each other, it did not cause much of a problem when E. M. Sankaran Namboodiripad was the Chief Minister. Nor did it as long as Naboodiripad was the doing the backseat driving for E. K. Nayanar. However, corruption started to rule the roost at various levels when party proxies with no Constitutional positions started running the government from behind. All the present day problems of the party including the SNC Lavalin case had their origins during that period.

So, Achuthanandan’s proposition that he and his Cabinet should be allowed to carry out their Constitutional duties is good for the party and the government. There is nothing worse than power without responsibility, of extra constitutional entities running the government. Party machinery could become self serving. It is more difficult for the government machinery to become one like that. So, the writing on the wall is that communist parties should change their party principles to accommodate certain separation of powers between the party and Constitutional functionaries unless Achuthanandan is not to be tempted to follow the path of Lok Sabha Speaker Somanath Chatterjee with some variations.

However, Achuthanandan’s present stand is not without consequence to himself and the Cabinet. Achuthanandan has implied that his Ministers are not towing the Constitutional line he is adopting. So, according to the very Constitutional principles he is upholding, he has to drop the Ministers who refuses to act according to the Constitution. However, if he does not have majority support in the Assembly, he will have to resign. Thus, Achuthanandan’s principled positions cannot be maintained without a cost and his victories would turn out to be limited.

Politicians and equality before law Monday, Jan 26 2009 

Pinarayi Vijayam is embarking on a march, terming the case as politically motivated

Pinarayi Vijayam is embarking on a march, terming the case as politically motivated

The Indian Constitution  says that all citizen’s are equal before the law. However, the law makers have forged a privileged position for themselves. So, the governor’s permission is needed to prosecute politicians who occupies or had occupied positions of power in Government. Thus, one of the issues in the way of prosecution of the State  Secretary of the CPI (M) in Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan in the Lavalin case investigated by the CBI now is the necessity governor’s clearance. This in most cases would be political decisions not based on the merit of the case. The ordinary citizen would have no such benefit.

Former Chief Ministers Prakash Singh Badal (Punjab), S. R. Bommai (Karnataka), Lalu Prasad Yadav (Bihar) and Mayawati (U. P) are people who have benefited from provisions of Criminal Procedure Code and other laws relating to framing of charges against them. In Kerala, the palmolein case former Chief Minister K. Karunakaran dragged on for years over such special provisions. The CBI case against the former Minister of Electricity in Kerala Padmarajan  could not proceed for want of permission.

Kerala’s Lok Ayukta, which can investigated complaints against Ministers and others, consists of persons having the rank of High Court Judges. However, they have no punitary powers. There recommendations to prosecute offenders would have to go to the political executive for action. Even University syndicate members can take cover under these provisions.

The special provisions for those who held positions of authority in Government is purported to protect bona fide actions. However, they now come in the way of justice.

Allegations and counter allegations Friday, Jan 25 2008 

Kerala SecretariatIt has become a routine for the ruling Left Democratic Front and Opposition United Democratic Front to face allegations with counter allegations. This suggests that both are involved in corrupt deals.

The latest instance is the allegations relating to the land deal for the Cyber City in Kochi. As the Opposition took up the issue, the Cabinet immediately decided on a CBI probe into the contracts for the modernisation of Kerala Minerals and Metals Limited during the UDF rule. The Opposition Leader Oommen Chandy’s immediate reaction was to seek a probe into the contract for the Titanium Sponge plant entered into by the LDF Government. He also wanted a judicial probe into the Cyber City deal.

Keralites know that judicial probes had ever led to punishment of any politician. It serves just to press for resignation of Ministers if a judicial probe is ordered against them and in fueling political debates. The fact that the politicians are able to get away with allegations and counter allegations points to failure of our institutions. This situation needed to be corrected if democracy is to survive.