The Congress-led United Democratic Front alliance in Kerala plunged into a crisis on Tuesday with finance minister KM Mani refusing to resign a day after the state high court ordered further probe against him in a corruption case.
The 82-year-old Mani, whose Kerala Congress(M) has eight MLAs in the assembly, is learnt to have informed chief minister Oommen Chandy that there was no need for him to quit as there was “no mention” against him in the court ruling.
When leaders of the Congress, which heads the alliance, insisted on his resignation, Mani made it clear that his party favoured the resignation of the entire cabinet.
“We will not allow Mani to be singled out and attacked. There is no personal mention against him in the verdict. So there is no need for him to quit now,” said government chief whip Thomas Unniyadan who too belongs to the KC(M).
Unniyadan said his party will get all the eight MLAs to resign if the Congress pressed for Mani’s resignation, but three of the members were reportedly against this. The Oommen Chandy government has a slender 72-68 majority in the assembly, with elections likely in May next year.
Mani, who heads the third largest party in the UDF, is an important player in the state’s politics, and has been a member of the assembly without a break since 1965.
The HC had on Monday, while quashing a clean chit given to Mani by the state vigilance department, said the decision on whether to step down was left to Mani.
“The fundamental principle that justice is not only done but should also appear to be done is applicable not to the judiciary alone but equally applicable to the other two pillars of the state,” the court obeserved in a stinging judgment while pulling up the government for spending tax payers’ money to defend a minister who is facing serious charges.
After the ruling by a single judge , the KC (M) asked the government to move a division bench of the high court or the Supreme Court.
The case began last October when bar owner Biju Ramesh alleged that Mani was bribed Rs 1 crore by the Kerala bar owners to ensure that 418 bars closed by the government as part of phased prohibition were reopened.
The vigilance bureau, which probed the case, said in its report the there was no evidence to chargesheet the minister. A vigilance court then ordered a fresh investigation after this was challenged by Opposition leader VS Atchuthanandan, and the probe was subsequently upheld by the High Court.