A two-decade-old graft case has returned to haunt the Congress, which is eyeing power in southern-most state Kerala. Its chief minister candidate Oommen Chandy, a low-profile politician often known as the alter ego of defence minister A K Antony, is in news for wrong reasons.
But unlike his mentor Antony he’s not a prisoner of his image. Chandy talks to the Hindustan Times about the slippery palm oil import case which already unseated CVC P J Thomas, his role in the case and prospects of his party in April 13 assembly elections.
Chances are there you will be made an accused in the palm oil case?
I already welcomed the verdict of the special court allowing further probe in the case. I am not running away from it. Let the vigilance investigate and fix responsibility if any. I feel a public servant should always uphold honesty and dignity. I am in politics for more than five decades. Unlike the CPM I am not casting aspersions on the investigating agency or judiciary
What is your role in the palm oil case?
The case was framed during the LDF government headed by E K Nayanar. It was vigorously pursued by the present government also. Though two LDF governments probed it my name never cropped up. The way it came up at the end of the present government really raises questions. It is nothing but political vendetta. My hands are clean.
The same case led to the ouster of P J Thomas?
Look, the Supreme Court never got into the merit of the case. I still believe the state never suffered any loss in the import. Facing severe edible oil crunch, five states imported oil. Our prices were lower than West Bengal’s. In fact the state earned Rs 11 crore profit in the deal. The case came up citing only procedural lapses. Since it is sub judice I can’t divulge further.
Now the state government says it has fresh evidence to implicate you?
If the government has valid evidence it could have straight away filed a case against me rather than dragging its feet. Finance minister Thomas Issac is telling a blatant lie that the file pertaining to palm oil case was missing. Vigilance officials had seized the file from the government on My 25, 1997 as part of their inquiry. He’s creating a smoke screen. See everything surfaced a month before the poll. People are aware of this ploy.
You did the same thing in SNC Lavalin case? It was handed over to the CBI in dying days of last UDF Government?
You cannot compare it with Lavalin case. It was handed over to the CBI when there was a big hue and cry, including from a section of the CPM, that both fronts were out to bury the case. We never believe in taking political revenge. Staring defeat in both states, Bengal and Kerala, the CPM is out to play many tricks.
Will you be there to lead the UDF?
I have taken a decision and informed the party high command about it. I feel Caesar’s wife should be above all suspicions. Facing bright prospects, Congress is not a personality-oriented party. There are enough candidates to lead the party. Party MLAs and high command will take appropriate decision.