The solar stink

The UDF government in Kerala has been badly hurt by a scandal that has involved some of its MLAs, ministers and even the chief minister’s office. In the six weeks after it first surfaced, the scandal has grown stronger and wider in scope, involved more people in positions of power through complaints of aggrieved persons or media disclosures and has now snowballed into an almost life-threatening issue for the government. A large number of people were cheated by a man and his woman partner with promises to set up solar panels and windmills. The swindled amounts ran into crores of rupees. The man was also found to have a criminal record with a murder charge against him. The government’s handling of the charges was half-hearted and unsatisfactory from the very beginning.

Leaked call record details of the woman’s mobile phone showed that persons in the chief ministers’ office  and ministers and MLAs were in constant touch with her. One person claimed that the woman had actually taken him to the chief minister’s office for a meeting with him and he had invested in the solar plan after the chief minister endorsed it. Two members of the CM’s staff have been suspended and a police enquiry by a special team has been ordered. But there is a wide perception that the inquiry is being  controlled by the government to shield powerful persons. The high court and leaders from the UDF itself have raised questions about the efficacy of the police investigation. Charges have been levelled against chief minister Oommen Chandi and persons close to him but he has not been questioned on them. There is a genuine doubt whether the chief minister’s claims of innocence can be taken at face value.

A cover-up plan, involving ministers, MLAs and a businessman, to buy the silence of the woman accused has surfaced now.  Through the course of the scandal the explanations and defences of the government at every stage have cracked and the government’s and the chief minister’s credibility has taken a hard knock. The attempt is to malign and even harass those who made the charges, campaign against the media which has actively pursued the case and to make countercharges against the opposition which has launched an agitation on the issue.  The government has badly lost its moral and political strength.

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