Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones at others. Kerala Industries and Sports minister E.P. Jayarajan should read up on this saying. Because that is precisely what he did with celebrated athlete Olympian Anju Bobby George when he accused her in June of wasting public money travelling from Bengaluru to Thiruvananthapuram to attend the Kerala Sports Council meeting in her capacity as its president.
At his first interaction after taking over as minister, Jayarajan objected to flight tickets availed by Anju, saying it was against the rules and implying it was "corruption". The athlete did not take the insult lying down and quit the post.
The shoe is on the other foot now. Jayarajan could well be the first wicket to fall in the Left Democratic Front ministry that is yet to complete five months in office. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) strongman from Kannur is accused of nepotism for having appointed Deepthi Nishad, his brother's daughter-in-law as the general manager of Kerala Clays and Ceramics Products Limited in Kannur. This is a Government of Kerala undertaking, a leading manufacturer and supplier of china clay.
Deepthi resigned after the appointment became public. It only showed Jayarajan's brazenness and reluctance to learn from past mistakes. Because just in the first week of October, he had appointed his nephew P.K. Sudhir Nambiar as managing director of Kerala State Industrial Enterprises. Sudhir also happens to be the son of CPM's Kannur MP P.K. Sreemathy, who is Jayarajan's sister-in-law. Following protests by the opposition, that appointment was also struck down.
Under pressure to show the red flag to Jayarajan, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan has asked the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau to do a quick verification about the charges.
The episode proves two things. One, that the LDF government's promise of providing a government different from the rival United Progressive Front rings hollow. The Oommen Chandy stint was marked by scandals like the Solar scam and the bar bribery scam, ensuring the UDF handed over the reins of power to the LDF on a platter this May. The fact that a politically experienced leader like Jayarajan thought he will get away with appointing family members to corporations under his watch illustrates the arrogance of power.
Two, Jayarajan, despite his seniority in the party, can be an embarrassment. When the legendary boxer Muhammad Ali passed away, Jayarajan made a Himalayan gaffe. As sports minister, he was asked for a reaction on Manorama News to Ali's demise. In words that have now become immortal, Jayarajan said: "I just came to know of the death of Muhammad Ali in the US. Ali was an eminent sports personality of Kerala and is one who has won a gold medal thereby raising Kerala's position in the world." Jayarajan was trolled on social media viciously for days. He was knocked out.
"Jayarajan, despite his seniority in the party, can be an embarrassment."
Jayarajan was not an embarrassment only as Sports minister. He misused podium space as Industry minister too. In September, addressing an investors' meet organised by the Kerala State Small Industries Association, Jayarajan said industrialists in Kerala should support bandhs. His reasoning was that if they do not support a shutdown, it will spoil the positive business sentiment that exists in Kerala. By that Jayarajan meant that hartals keep the labour force happy and so managements should take a benevolent view of strikes. This in a state that saw 300 regional strikes in 2015 and has seen three state-wide bandhs since September this year.
The charges of nepotism has also isolated big brother CPM within the LDF. The CPI in an editorial in its mouthpieceJanayugam, wrote: "LDF came to power because of its stated policy against corruption. Nepotism is indeed a form of corruption. It cannot be whitewashed with any sort of explanation."
This kind of pressure from within the ruling front has pushed CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury to promise corrective measures. Jayarajan saw the writing on the wall when CPM Kerala secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan this week asked him to submit a list of people appointed by his ministry. Jayarajan has now offered to quit and sources say there are many within the LDF who want Vijayan to accept the same to avoid further embarrassment.
If the Vigilance gives its report by Friday, chances are that Jayarajan could be given marching orders or be stripped of his high-profile Industries portfolio to send across the message that LDF is different from the UDF that was deemed to be united in corruption. The lesson for Jayarajan would be that it does not work to be a family man, when in government.
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