Mani’s resignation came too late

If Mani is absolved in the probe, he would be welcome to stage a comeback

The Kerala finance and law minister K M Mani has resigned from the UDF cabinet. It is rather late in the day as the bar bribery controversy had already snowballed into the state’s biggest political issue. By stonewalling for over a year on the corruption charges and the vigilance inquiry, which initially found there may have been substance and material evidence to the case, the coalition government lost much goodwill and vast political ground. In not forcing the issue concerning a partner of the front, the leader of the alliance, Congress, was seen to be at variance with its own stand on issues concerning the former cricket czar Lalit Modi and his links with Union minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje. Having campaigned in a very shrill voice calling for the resignation of BJP leaders, the Congress was seen quoting coalition dharma to let the bribery issue in Kerala to fester.

The state was already tied in knots with the government seeking to introduce prohibition gradually but with flawed policies favouring star hotels that were to be exempted and the courts not taking kindly to the discrimination inherent in the modalities. When the bribery charges against Mani were first aired, the situation seemed ripe with the liquor industry - its thousands of crores of business at stake - bound to try its tricks by influencing politicians with regard to policy. Wisdom would have suggested that once an FIR was filed in December 2014 the finance minister should have resigned. The interminable time taken for the vigilance inquiry to find its feet may have exacerbated matters. The nature of a vigilance probe by officers reporting to the Home ministry, in this case a minister from the Congress, was bound to be treated with suspicion.

What finally tipped the scales were the scalding comments of a High Court judge who waded into the case quoting Shakespeare and invoking a reference to Caesar’s wife having to be above suspicion. Considering the serious nature of the charges and the evidence initially tendered by several witnesses, it would appear the case should have been referred to a judicial inquiry or a court supervised probe rather than the vigilance department whose officers report to the government of the day. The reluctance of politicians to demit office and await the result of an inquiry may not be confined to Kerala. But is clear that the Congress had learnt no lessons from the 2G and many other scams in which coalition partners were found to be involved.

The party’s stand in calling for higher accountability from the rulers at the Centre as opposed to its own actions in the Kerala bar bribery scandal is a clear pointer to a double standard. If Mani is absolved in the probe, he would be welcome to stage a comeback. Propriety demands that those against whom cases are registered and have to face a probe under the Prevention of Corruption Act step down from office to allow unfettered inquiries and await the verdict of courts.

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( Source : deccan chronicle )
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