It is said that a man is known by the company he keeps. In which case, we can only assume that chief minister of Kerala Oommen Chandy is not a very good judge of character. It now transpires that fraudulent 'entrepreneurs' had free access to him and his staff and were able to even speak on his behalf. A businessman who had paid out money to a so-called businesswoman with links to Mr Chandy and his officials and indeed many ministers in his Cabinet has blown the lid off a major solar power scam which has blown up in the chief minister's face. Whether Mr Chandy was complicit in any of this or was just too trusting and open will be proved after investigations. But the whole ugly incident raises a larger issue. Why was it necessary to 'know' the chief minister to get a solar plant started? Is he a well-known solar power expert?
The penetration of politics into all aspects of our life is so deep that even a common and garden clearance for a technical project seems to require proximity to a political personage.
Mr Chandy apparently assured the businessman in question that he would smooth things over for the venture. This suggests that the promise was made even before any feasibility study was presented. It does not seem to have struck Mr Chandy that this matter should have been referred to some expert or panel of experts before assurances were made. And Mr Chandy is not alone in this. So politically-oriented is our culture that even hydel-projects, nuclear power plants, car manufacturing plants, you name it, require intervention at the highest political level. This trend has several drawbacks. First, it puts a lot of undue power in the hands of those who are close to the centre of power, be it a chief minister, an MP or cabinet minister. The second is that the decision taken is not informed enough by technical expertise, rather it is taken on political considerations. And third, it most definitely opens the door to corruption.
The government should at best be a facilitator for loans and infrastructure. It should leave the viability of a project to those who know the subject. We have seen in the past that hasty permissions granted without any thought for the consequences have led to ruinous increases in project costs and even abandonment of the venture in some cases. Politicians should do what they know best, making laws, ensuring good governance and clearing the path for investment. But for a business to need a letter from the chief minister's office and bribes to sundry middlemen is enough to deter would-be entrepreneurs. Given the flak that Oommen Chandy has attracted for the recent turn of events, he very definitely needs to take a closer look at the company he keeps.