POLITICAL TURMOIL

Kerala CM Pinarayi dithers again on Thomas Chandy

pinarayi-chandy-rinkuraj-mattancheriyil (L) Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan with Thomas Chandy

The state cabinet did not discuss the issue of Thomas Chandy's resignation, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told reporters on Wednesday. Briefing the media after a cabinet meeting, the CM said the CPI ministers decided to keep away from the cabinet in protest against Chandy attending the cabinet. Pinarayi termed the decision as unprecedented.

He said the NCP leadership informed him that they need to discuss the issue with the national leadership of the party on the Thomas Chandy's resignation and after that he would take a decision. The NCP is reportedly seeking some assurance that though Chandy would step down, he should be accommodated later if he clears legal hurdles. The CPI, however, is adamant that Chandy and NCP cannot put up conditions.

Earlier, TV reports said Thomas Chandy offered to resign from the cabinet after CPI ministers skipped a cabinet meeting in an unprecedented development.

At the cabinet meeting, ministers G. Sudhakaran and Mathew T. Thomas said Chandy should quit, as per TV reports.

The government was dragged into an unwarranted crisis situation for more than a month due to the controversy over Thomas Chandy, the outspoken Sudhakaran reportedly said in the cabinet meeting. Many ministers, however, refrained from voicing any opinion.

The CPI's pressure tactic seemed to have worked with reports suggesting that the minister and his party the NCP agreed to keep away from the cabinet for the time being. CPI state secretary Kanam Rajendran had informed reporters that party ministers decided to skip the cabinet in protest against allowing the minister to attend it rather than seeking his resignation. Chandy had met Pinarayi Vijayan at his official residence here ahead of a cabinet meeting.

The NCP leader reached the Cliff House around 7.50am along with NCP state president T. P. Peethambaran. The chief minister reportedly suggested to Chandy that stepping down would be appropriate. Later Chandy said he would attend the cabinet meeting and chief minister would take a decision after a getting copy of the court verdict, which is expected by 11 am.

The chief minister perhaps wanted to give Chandy the option of an honourable verdict, but by delaying an imminent resignation, the NCP and the minister only managed to sully the image of the LDF.

Defiant Chandy

On Tuesday, Thomas Chandy said he would quit only if the observation against him is in the signed verdict of the Kerala High Court on his petition against the Alappuzha district collector's report on alleged encroachments. He cited a Supreme Court observation that court's oral observations need not be considered as a final verdict.

Chandy was speaking to media persons after the Kerala High Court dismissed his plea challenging a report by Alappuzha district collector T.V. Anupama which has found violations of land rules by a resort management in which Chandy has a stake.

"Let me get the signed verdict. If there is an observation against me in the verdict, no doubt, I will quit," he said to a query on the growing demand for his resignation.

The three-time MLA from Kuttanad had joined the Pinarayi cabinet in April after party nominee A.K. Saseendran resigned after a sleaze audio with a woman went viral.

The businessman-turned politician has been under attack for the past one month from the opposition Congress-led UDF and the BJP over charges that a luxury resort at Kuttanad in Alappuzha district, owned by him, had allegedly encroached backwaters and violated land rules.

Alappuzha district collector Anupama had recently submitted a report to the government, stating there was large scale violations of Kerala land conservation act and Conservation of Paddy land and wetland act. Challenging this, the minister had moved the high court. The court on Tuesday slammed the minister for approaching it challenging the government in which he is also a part.

A division bench of the high court held that a minister cannot file a petition against his own government, which had ordered the district collector to look into the matter and submit a report.

There was a violation of the collective cabinet responsibility by the minister, the court held. "It shows that you have no trust in your own government and chief minister," the bench said, observing that it was "extremely improper" for a minister to file a petition against his own government.

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