The clamour for the ouster of Minister for Higher Education and Minority Welfare K.T. Jaleel from the Kerala cabinet seemed to grow more strident on Saturday.
Union Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muralidharan dared Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to honour the Kerala Lok Ayukta’s recommendation to expel Mr. Jaleel from office.
The forum had opined that Mr. Jaleel had lost the moral right to continue as Minister after it deemed him guilty of nepotism.
The BJP leader seemed to have found common ground with Congress and Indian Union Muslim League (IUML).
The parties had been increasingly shrill in their demand for Mr. Jaleel’s ouster.
The Lok Ayukta had deemed the Minister guilty of “abuse of power, favouritism, nepotism and violation of oath of office” for attempting to wangle a top post for a “second cousin” in the Kerala Minority Welfare Commission.
The panel had conveyed its finding to Mr. Vijayan, the competent authority, for appropriate action.
Mr. Muralidharan said the government and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] had revealed their resolve to defend Mr. Jaleel.
He said the “unethical” position betrayed Mr. Jaleel’s “special relationship” with Mr. Vijayan.
Mr. Muralidharan recalled that Mr. Vijayan had “ejected” Industries Minister E.P. Jayarajan from the cabinet in 2016 on an unconfirmed charge of nepotism.
In 2017, Mr. Vijayan expelled the late Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and Transport Minister Thomas Chandy from the Council of Ministers after a court held him guilty for backwater encroachment and environmental crime.
In stark contrast, the CM appeared highly solicitous of Mr. Jaleel. He defended Mr. Jaleel when the Customs and later the Enforcement Directorate (ED) questioned the Minister in connection with the gold smuggling case.
Mr. Vijayan had protected Mr. Jaleel at every low point in his political career.
Mr. Muralidharan portrayed Mr. Jaleel as Mr. Vijayan’s conscience keeper.
“It might do Mr. Vijayan some good to remember that Mr. Jaleel was a close confidant of IUML leader P.K. Kunhalikutty before he turned on his earlier mentor”, he said.
The LDF pushed back against the demand for Mr. Jaleel’s resignation. The ruling front seemed determined to deny the opposition a moral victory.
Law Minister A.K. Balan said the government had time till July end to act on the Loka Ayukta finding. Moreover, the opposition’s demand had no legal precedent. Former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy had not resigned when the Loka Ayukta found him guilty of maladministration for misusing tsunami relief funds.
Moreover, Mr. Jaleel was the aggrieved party. He had the right to seek relief in a higher court. Mr. Jaleel has moved the High Court against the Loka Ayukta finding. (Muslim Youth League State general secretary P.K. Firoz has intervened in the petition as an interested opposite party).
CPI(M) State secretary A. Vijayaraghavan said the government would examine the Loka Ayukta finding and proceed as per legal opinion. He rejected the claim of opposition parties for Mr. Jaleel’s resignation.