Heat yet to settle, Isro spy case returns to haunt Congress in Kerala
The Supreme Court’s observation on the arrest of S Nambi Narayanan, who was accused of selling the country’s rocket technology to enemies, is a big victory for the former space scientist but a clear setback for faction-ridden Congress in Kerala and CPI(M)-led state government that vigorously pursued the case.
The court has also constituted a judicial commission to inquire into the role of police in Kerala and asked the state government to give ₹50 lakh as compensation to the scientist, who headed the cryogenic division of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) when he was arrested in 1994.
No other litigation can match the alleged spy scandal for the sheer heat it generated for 25 years in Kerala politics and by the looks of it will continue for some more time. The top court’s decision to constitute a judicial commission is set to open a floodgate of politicking on the issue.
Many books have been written about the case and a Bollywood director had even announced a biopic on the scientist, who had to pay a heavy price along with former chief minister K Karunakaran in the sordid drama. It was not merely politics alone as many scientists have claimed the case delayed the country’s ambitious cryogenic engine development programme meant to deploy heavy satellites in orbit.
Narayanan had introduced liquid fuel propulsion technology in the country in the late 1970s when his senior APJ Abdul Kalam was the head of the solid propulsion system. Kalam rose to great heights while Narayanan’s world crashed when he was arrested with another scientist D Sasikumar on charges of allegedly selling space secrets to two semi-literate Maldivian women in 1994.
“When humiliation was heaped from all sides at one point I thought of ending my life. But later I thought I shouldn’t go down as a traitor. I lived my life for the truth to emerge,” he said while speaking to the Hindustan Times during an earlier interaction.
The soaring political career of Karunakaran was affected and former prime minister PV Narasimha Rao and his son Prabhakara Rao’s names also cropped up during the investigation into the case. Sidelined in the party later, Karunakaran was forced to quit and float his own outfit. He came back to the party a few years before his death.
Soon after the verdict, Karunakaran’s daughter Padmaja Venugopal said the conspiracy against the father was hatched by five political leaders and claimed their roles will come out in the course of the judicial probe. She also said she will reveal their names if the commission calls her to depose before it.
“Let the truth come out. My father did not get justice. Former PM Narasimha Rao cheated my father. He took undue haste in seeking his resignation,” her brother K Muralidharan, who is a Congress MLA, said.
Political observers say the verdict could create tension in the state Congress and many questions will crop up against senior leaders like AK Antony and Oommen Chandy, who led a formidable group against Karunakaran. Antony succeeded Karunakaran as the chief minister after he resigned in the wake of the spy case in 1994.
Acting Pradesh Congress Committee president MM Hassan had admitted two years ago that leaders like him really regret leading a coup against the ‘Leader’, as Karunakaran was known in the state.
“It is preposterous to point accusing fingers at some leaders,” said Congress leader Thiruvanchur Radhakrishnan, considered to be close to Chandy. The former chief minister refused to comment, saying let Padmaja come out with those names.
Interestingly, the then deputy inspector general of police in the eye of the storm Raman Srivastava, whom Karunakaran vociferously defended and was attacked for doing so, is the police advisor to the current Pinarayi Vijayan government. Communists had held a series of protest against Srivastava then, but he later made Kerala his home.