India: Bar bribery scandal: Defiant Kerala Finance Minister KM Mani finally resigns, government in trouble!


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-Dr. Abdul Ruff

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Kerala state in South India, ruled by Congress led UDF government with a meager majority, is in trouble now. A defiant Kerala Finance Minister K M Maani, against whom an FIR had been registered in the bar bribery case, resigned on November 10 night after high political drama in the capital Thiruvanathapuram following a verdict indicting him the bar bribery case.  Mani had to step down with “heavy heart” after pressure mounted on him from the ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) to quit.

A day after the High Court upheld a Vigilance Court order for further investigations in the case, 82-year-old Maani, who put up a stiff fight to stay in office, however, had to yield to pressure from Congress, the lead partner which, upon supporting him all along, now stood firm stating that the resignation is inevitable.

Despite pressure from the opposition and within, the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) had seemed unwilling to ask him to step down, after a preliminary meeting to discuss the matter earlier today.

The resignation of KM Mani, accused of bribery, has come as a  problem for the ruling Congress party which has lost in local elections in the state and a big relief even to people of Kerala   facing political fight over Mani’s defiance.
The opposition CPI (M)-led LDF had already decided to intensify their agitation against Mani if he does not resign and announced that they will commence “indefinite satyagraha” in front of the Secretariat from Wednesday.
A visibly depressed Mani, who is the country’s longest serving legislator, told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram: “I have to respect the law and hence I have resigned,”. “I have already informed the chief minister (Oommen Chandy) of my decision to resign. Through a special messenger, I will send my resignation to the CM” Mani said. “I take this opportunity to thank the CM and all other leaders who extended support to me. We also wish to state that we will continue to support the United Democratic Front government,” he added. Kerala congress chief whip, Thomas Unniyadan, has also submitted his resignation.

Accepting the resignations, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, however, said Mani’s decision to resign was his own and neither the Congress nor the UDF had compelled him to do so.

Chandy said even though the High Court had not pronounced him guilty in the case, Mani’s decision to resign was to uphold high political and democratic values.

Mani’s troubles began after working president of Kerala state Bar Hotel Owners Association, Biju Ramesh, alleged in October last year that the Minister had demanded Rs 5 crore as bribe from the Association and accepted Rs 1 crore for renewal of licences of over 400 Indian made foreign liquor bars, triggering a political storm. An FIR had been filed against Mani in the court last year after a ‘quick verification’ by the Vigilance on the allegations made by Ramesh. However, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and Mani had maintained that it was a politically motivated charge and had denied the allegations.

The final report, seeking closure of the case against Mani, was challenged by CPI (M) veteran and Opposition leader V S Achuthanandan and eight others who sought a further probe into the case. Kerala had also witnessed a series of agitations by CPI (M)-led LDF demanding Mani’s resignation since the bar bribery allegations broke out.
The opposition had been demanding the finance minister’s resignation ever since the allegations surfaced in November 2014. The Assembly had also witnessed unprecedented violence with opposition and ruling front MLAs coming to blows over the issue when LDF members tried to prevent Mani from presenting the budget on March 13 this year.

The High Court had yesterday ordered that investigations into charges of bribery against Mani would continue. The court also observed that “Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion” leading to demands for the finance minister’s resignation.

Amidst major uproar for Kerala Finance Minister KM Mani’s resignation over bar bribery scandal, Mani came out and announced his resignation. Congress leader and government chief whip Thomas Unniyadan also has announced to resign from his post.  Speaking to ANI, Mani said, “In accordance to the law, I hereby tender my resignation.” He also said that the resignation has been sent to Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy.

The UDF government would suffer in number game  if Mani resigns and withdraws support to  Oommen Chandy government and hence Congress party  does not ask Mani to resign. The central Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi had ruled out any immediate action against Mani insisting that it would be ‘unfair’ as the case against him was still being heard.  “It will be unfair for the right of an accused…who cannot be treated as convict or semi-convict….Everybody has to hold their horses for a few days,” Singhvi had said.  Unniyadan had said that the Kerala High Court order on Monday was, in fact, not against Mani but in his favour as the Vigilance Court observations against the state finance minister had been expunged. “There is not even a word against Mani in the verdict. Why should he resign? The high court verdict is favoring the minister. Has the court said anywhere that Mani was guilty? And, so, there is no reason for him to resign,” he said.

Later both Mani and Unniyadan resigned.

Top leaders of the UDF – which is a seven party coalition including Mani’s Kerala Congress (M) – met at Chief Minister Oommen Chandy’s house yesterday morning to discuss the issue.  Mani was not present at the meeting, with leaders from his party holding a separate meeting at his home and defending his right to continue in office.

Mani announced his decision to resign after day long parleys with his party colleagues and made it clear that his party will continue to provide unstinting support to Chandy and UDF. Earlier in the day putting the UDF into crisis, Mani tried to prevail upon his party colleague and Irrigation Minister P J Joseph and Chief Whip Thomas Unniyadan, also to resign along with him. However, after Joseph refused to yield, Mani, the senior most legislator in the state, finally had no other option, but to give in and resign.

As Mani announced his resignation at his official residence here tonight, Joseph and two of his loyal MLAs – T U Kuruvilla and Mons Joseph were conspicuous by their absence.

The Kerala Congress (M) chief KM Mani is, like the Muslim league that has the second largest tally in the Assembly,  a crucial ally of UDF with the party’s eight legislators making up the entire lead that the United Democratic Front has over its rival, the Left Democratic Front, in the assembly. The party has a sizeable vote bank in the central Travancore area in the state, especially among Christians.

Kerala Congress (M), a powerful regional party and third largest coalition partner in the UDF, has nine MLAs, including rebel P C George, who announced that he would submit his resignation on November 12.

With the High Court making observations like Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion, clamor for Mani’s resignation grew from various quarters, including Congress. However, Mani loyalists spun a new theory stating that the verdict was in fact favoring their leader and there was nothing against him to prompt his resignation. Even as pressure mounted throughout the day on Mani to quit, the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram, witnessed hectic parleys among UDF leaders led by Chief Minister, Oommen Chandy, KPCC President V M Sudheeran and Home Minister, Ramesh Chennithala and IUML leader and Industries Minister P K Kunhalikutty.

The resignation comes as a huge blow to Mani, who has completed 50 years as legislator and this was an ignominious exit for a leader who had been elected to the Assembly in 1965 from Pala, which has returned him all these years.

Karingozhakkal Mani Mani, popularly known as ‘Mani sir’, whose fate seems to be sealed now, is currently the chairman of empowered committee on GST. He also holds the record of having presented the maximum number of 13 budgets in the state assembly as Finance Minister. Mani was first elected to state assembly from his home constituency Pala in Kottayam district 1965. His son, Jose K Mani, is the the party MP from Kottayam. Apart from Finance, Mani had also handled the Home and Revenue portfolios.\

In the past, veteran Congress leader late K Karunakaran, Kerala Congress (B) leader, R Balakrishna Pillai and his son K B Ganesh Kumar, IUML leader P K Kunhalikutty, Kerala Congress (M) leader P J Joseph are among those who were forced to resign either due to court verdicts or other reasons. This is the second resignation of a Minister in the Chandy cabinet that came to power in May 2011, the first being actor turned  politician and son  of a senior politician Ganesh Kumar in April 2013, who was forced to resign following complaints of domestic violence by his estranged wife.

BJP leaders like Nitin Gadkari, Arun Jaitley and mentors like Baba Ramdev are laughing at the plight of Mani who had to resign for taking a bribe of just 1 crore rupees. People like Gadkari were allegedly involved in scams worth thousands of crores and are still central ministers. There is no chance that the BJP would take any action against its ministers, members because it can’t punish those with RSS links.

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