Kerala finance minister KM Mani resigned from the Oommen Chandy government on Tuesday following mounting pressure from the Congress and other allies of the ruling UDF, a day after the Kerala High Court declined to halt a probe against him in a bribery case.
Initially, he was reluctant to quit citing technical reasons in the verdict but later budged after the Congress toughened its stand and made it clear he had no alternative. Other allies of the ruling UDF -- the Muslim League, RSP and JD (U) -- also favoured his resignation to salvage the situation.
“I resign from the ministry to uphold values I cherished all these years.” Mani said as he pledged all support to the Oommen Chandy government. Chief whip Thomas Unniyadan also quit his post.
The resignation came after the High Court on Monday reversed a state vigilance department decision to clear him in the bar bribery case, saying the decision on whether to step down or not was left to him.
The 82-year-old Mani, whose Kerala Congress (M) has eight MLAs in the assembly, did enough bargaining before caving in. He wanted to make his son Jose K Mani, an LS member, finance minister but this demand was turned down.
The Chandy government has a wafer-thin majority of four MLAs in the 40-member house, making it difficult for the UDF to antagonise the veteran.
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 criticised the government for spending taxpayer money to defend a minister facing serious corruption charges.
“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 observed in a stinging judgment.
The case began last October when a bar owner Biju Ramesh alleged Mani was bribed Rs 1 crore by the Kerala bar owners association 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 probe after this was challenged by Opposition leader VS Atchuthanandan, and that was subsequently upheld by the High Court.