Barely five months after winning the Kerala Assembly election with a promise to end corruption, the Left Democratic Front government in Kerala was forced to remove EP Jayarajan, a senior Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader, from the Pinarayi Vijayan’s cabinet on charges of nepotism.

The minister of industries, commerce and sports landed in trouble after he had gone out of the way to appoint his relatives in key positions in the public sector companies. His brazen act had drawn the wrath of public and party members all over the State.

The beneficiaries of his largesse were his nephew, PK Sudheer Nambiar, and his brother’s daughter-in-law, Deepthi Nishad. Nambiar is the son of CPI(M) MP from Kannur and party Central Committee member, PK Sreemathi, who happens to be Jayarajan’s sister-in-law.

While Nambiar was appointed as the managing director of Kerala State Industrial Enterprises, Nishad got the general manager’s job in Kerala Clays and Ceramics Products Limited.

It was alleged that both the beneficiaries didn’t attend the interviews conducted by the Public Sector Restructuring and Internal Audit Board.

When the appointments snowballed into a political controversy, the minister said Nambiar’s posting was scrapped as the department could not accept his request for extending the joining date. Nishad too tendered her resignation in an attempt to save the minister’s image. But the damage had already been done.

The CPI(M) State Secretariat, which met in Thiruvananthapuram on Friday, didn’t show any leniency towards the tainted minister and asked him to step down immediately. The party’s national leadership too demanded stern action against Jayarajan.

Meanwhile, the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau had initiated a quick verification of the charges levelled against the minister. The agency would have to resume the probe if they found evidence, which means the political storm will not die down immediately.

Corruption charges

It might be a coincidence that Jayarajan was the first minister to raise corruption allegations against a nominee of the previous Congress-led United Democratic Front government, soon after assuming office.

Jayarajan couldn’t hide his displeasure over Anju Bobby George’s continuation as the president of the Kerala Sports Council. George, a world athletics championship medal winner, had been appointed to the post by the UDF government.

He objected to her flight trips from Bangalore to Thiruvananthapuram to attend the council meetings and termed them as corruption. “All the transfers and new appointments made by you are illegal, and it amounts to corruption. I can stop all these,” the minister had threatened George.

His ignorance also came to the fore while paying tribute to legendary boxer Muhammed Ali. The minister described Ali as “the pride of Kerala who had won medals for the State.” He later admitted his mistake in a Facebook post. “A mistake is mistake. Hope Kerala’s sports lovers would understand my folly.”

He made another foot-in-the mouth statement when he urged industrialists to support hartals. “If you don’t support hartals, it will affect the positive business environment in the state,” he had told an investors’ meet in Kollam.

Virtue out of necessity

Television news channels reported on Friday that Jayarajan informed the CPI(M) state secretariat his willingness to resign to save the reputation of the party and the government. He also made it clear that he didn’t want to continue in the ministry with the nepotism charges hanging over his head.

The CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan told journalists in Thiruvananthapuram on Friday that Jayarajan had corrected his wrong with the decision to step down. “The decision to quit proved that LDF is keen to preserve values in politics. On the contrary, the UDF regime never took action against eight tainted ministers,” Balakrishnan said.

Former chief minister Oommen Chandy welcomed the decision to axe Jayarajan, but said CPI(M) could not claim the moral high ground. “The CPI(M) knew that there was no way out for the tainted minister. We would continue our agitations to press for vigilance enquiry.”

NM Pearson, a political observer, said the CPI(M) has done a service to the society by removing the tainted minister. “It is an issue that affects the society. With the axing of a senior party colleague like Jayarajan, the chief minister has issued a stern warning that corruption will not be tolerated.”

Meanwhile, the state cabinet has decided to bring strict guidelines with an aim to stop ministers from inducting relatives in key positions. A separate board of appointments would be set up to ensure transparency in appointments. It is also being envisaged that clearance from the vigilance would need to be made available prior to recruitment to higher positions such as General Manager or Managing Director.