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Scandal in the wind

It was a close shave for the United Democratic Front (UDF). That the Left Democratic Front (LDF) could make anti-incumbency almost irrelevant and nearly reverse the trend of no government getting re-elected in Kerala in the last three decades, can be attributed to the UDF's own follies. Ramesh Babu writes. Top priority

india Updated: May 15, 2011 01:40 IST
Ramesh Babu

It was a close shave for the United Democratic Front (UDF). That the Left Democratic Front (LDF) could make anti-incumbency almost irrelevant and nearly reverse the trend of no government getting re-elected in Kerala in the last three decades, can be attributed to the UDF's own follies.

Three months back, when former minister R Balakrishna Pillai was sent to jail in the Edamalayar Dam case, he fumed. "People will give a befitting reply to chief minister VS Achuthanandan for haunting me for 25 years."

On the contrary, in Kottarakkara, his own constituency, Pillai's handpicked candidate NN Murali bit the dust by more than 20,000 votes. His imprisonment a month before electioneering began strengthened the LDF's anti-corruption campaign.

The ice-cream parlour sex scandal and the Edamalayar dam case, pursued vigorously by former chief minister VS for more than two decades, became a symbol of change in the state. It helped the CPI(M) emerge as the single largest party in the 2011 assembly and added some sheen to the fading red star.

The Edamalayar case dates back to 1982 when the state electricity board awarded a contract to build a tunnel in the Edamalayar hydroelectric project. The opposition CPI(M) alleged huge kickbacks in awarding the contract. Almost ten years later, in 1991, a case was registered against then power minister R Balakrishna Pillai and seven others on Achuthanandan's complaint.

The opposition claimed Pillai and others had caused a loss of R2 crore to the exchequer. In 1991 the Thiruvananthapuram vigilance court sentenced Pillai and other co-accused to five years' rigorous imprisonment. But in 2003 the Kerala High Court reversed the verdict citing the plea of the accused that the case was politically motivated. In February 2011, ending a long legal battle, the Supreme Court jailed Pillai for a year.

Pillai's imprisonment in the Edamalayar case boosted Achuthanandan's image as a crusader. Unmindful of the initial humiliation (he was at first denied a seat) meted out by party state bosses, the outgoing CM managed to take the fight to the rival camp towards the end of the campaign.

Capitalising on the anti-corruption wave sweeping the country, VS raked up old corruption cases that were gathering dust, including Edamalayar. It earned him the sobriquet 'Kerala Hazare'.

"After the Pillai case VS became an anti-corruption icon. Though he couldn't do much in four years, in the last six months he was seen he was the best bet," says political commentator BRP Bhaskar.