Allegations of bribery levelled by liquor bar owners against finance minister K M Mani over reopening closed bars were on Saturday dismissed as 'baseless' by Kerala government even as opposition CPI-M demanded a judicial probe.
Mani, a leader of Kerala Congress(M), a key constituent of ruling Congress-led UDF, also rejected the charges as "baseless" and suspected "ulterior motives".
Chief minister Oommen Chandy while ruling out a probe said the charges were "totally baseless", a day after the working President of Kerala Bar Owners Association and a bar owner Biju Ramesh alleged in a section of the media that Mani had taken Rs one crore and demanded Rs five crore to reopen 418 closed bars.
"I am very sure that the allegation is totally baseless and so there is no need for any probe. I am fully confident about this," Chandy said.
Chandy termed the allegations against Mani as "unfortunate" and said people would not believe this kind of charge against the minister, whose political life "is an open book and not behind an iron curtain".
He denied the charge of Ramesh that he had raised the issue of some of his cabinet colleagues demanding bribe during a meeting with him and asserted no such interaction had taken place and that he had also not met the person concerned.
Mani, speaking to reporters at Pala, his constituency in Kottayam district, alleged that the charges had been levelled with "ulterior motives".
The minister said he suspected a conspiracy to malign him and challenged those who had levelled the charges to prove it.
The bribery allegation also had political overtones as government chief whip and KC-M nominee P C George alleged that Chandy was behind the allegations.
Referring to George's remark, Mani said, "I do not believe the chief minister is behind the allegations".
Asked about George's remark, the chief minister said he had earlier reversed many of his statements.
The bar licence issue is now before Kerala high court.
Seizing on the matter, CPI(M) state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan alleged that political reasons were behind the charges levelled against Mani and that Chandy was going to benefit from it.
He also demanded a comprehensive probe into the charges.
"The opposition had earlier stated that there was corruption in the bar issue. So we are not surprised at the latest development. There are political reasons behind the allegations and Oommen Chandy is the one who is going to benefit from it," Vijayan said.
Mani's party Kerala Congress-M had been pressing to make him CM for some time and the present charge was to block it, he alleged.
Vijayan demanded that not only this charge, but all corruption charges against the UDF government be probed.
CPI-M politburo member M A Baby termed the charges as very serious and demanded a judicial probe.