The report of a judicial inquiry commission into the multi-crore solar scam in Kerala, which was tabled in the Assembly on Thursday by the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front government, has put the Congress leadership in the state as well as in neighbouring Karnataka on the back foot. Karnataka, where the Congress party is in power, is scheduled to hold Assembly elections in the first half of 2018.
In 2013, Biju Radhakrishnan and his partner, a woman, allegedly cheated investors of Rs 7 crores by offering to make them partners in their company, Team Solar Renewable Energy Solutions Private Limited, which sold solar energy products. Congress leader Oommen Chandy, who was then the chief minister of Kerala, is accused of using his position to help them. The woman later accused Chandy of sexual assault. In January, Radhakrishnan and the woman were convicted in a case filed by one of the investors and are currently serving a three-year jail sentence.
The 1,073-page report states that Chandy, his cabinet colleagues, former Union ministers and prominent leaders of the Congress-led United Democratic Front received bribes and sexual favours from the accused. The ripples of the scam reached poll-bound Karnataka with the report naming the Congress MP from Alappuzha in Kerala, KC Venugopal, as one of the leaders who had sexually assaulted the woman accused. The Congress has deputed Venugopal to oversee the party’s preparations for next year’s Assembly elections in Karnataka.
The Congress in Kerala has decided to fight the case against its leaders legally and politically. “The report is politically motivated, it is not based on facts or evidences,” said Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee chief MM Hassan, adding that his party would seek legal opinion on the matter.
The party’s Karnataka unit, meanwhile, threw its weight behind Venugopal. Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president G Parameshwara said Venugopal had boosted the party’s morale since he took charge of poll preparations in May and there was no need to recall him from this duty. “The Communist Party of India [Marxist] is playing dirty politics,” he claimed. “Venugopal is a leader with a clean image.”
The Bharatiya Janata Party has alleged that deputing Venugopal in Karnataka shows the immorality of the Congress. “It is a shame on the Congress,” BJP spokesperson Ashwathanarayan said. “People of Karnataka will reject the party in the next election.”
This prompted Parameshwara to respond by saying, “BJP MLAs watched porn movies inside the Assembly. Its minister went to jail for alleged sex scandal. We would bring them up if they try to corner Venugopal.”
Change in stance
The inquiry commission headed by retired judge G Sivarajan was set up in October 2013 by the Chandy government, after it came under intense media attention and pressure from the opposition Left Democratic Front. Chandy’s popularity plummeted in the wake of the scandal and in the 2016 Assembly elections, the Congress-led United Democratic Front suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Left coalition.
The commission submitted its report to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on September 26 this year. Instead of tabling the report in the Assembly, as is the practice, Vijayan addressed a press conference on October 11 and announced inquiries by the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau and a Special Investigation Team against Chandy and his aides.
But the government dropped this plan when it tabled the report in the House on Thursday. It is learnt that it took this decision on the advice of former Supreme Court judge Arijit Pasayat. The government had earlier been accused of political vendetta over its decision to reveal part of the findings instead of tabling the entire report in the Assembly.
The chief minister said the government would now investigate the politicians and government officials who have been named for demanding and accepting bribes and sexual favours from the accused in the solar scam and would invoke relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Prevention of Corruption Act against them.
The commission has stated that accepting sexual favours amounts to accepting bribes and would come under the ambit of illegal gratification mentioned in the Prevention of Corruption Act.
What the report states
Among its main findings, the judicial commission has rejected Chandy’s claim that he had no prior connection with the woman accused. It observed that there was evidence of phone calls made from Chandy’s office to her personal mobile numbers.
The commission drew the majority of its inferences from the woman’s testimony and a letter she wrote from jail on July 19, 2013 that was released in a section of the media. The letter accused Chandy of accepting a bribe of Rs 2.1 crores and forcing her to have unnatural sex at his official residence.
The report also states that Venugopal raped the accused three times.
However, Venugopal has said the commission has not made any personal remarks against him in its report. In a press release, he pointed out that the commission had included a letter written by the woman in its report and said, “It contained concocted stories to malign my reputation. I don’t understand why the commission included a letter that contained unsubstantiated claims in the report. It raises suspicion.”