By Sanu George
Just as 2014 began when Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy saw the withering away of the Left-sponsored protest against what is known as the Solar scam, the year is coming to a close with a morale-boosting victory over his state party president V.M.Sudheeran when the liquor policy was tweaked.
Overall for Chandy, it was more or less a roller coaster ride with the pendulum of fortune swinging back and forth – and whenever it mattered, it really swung his way.
The trouble was at its peak for Chandy over the Kasturirangan report that sought to bring just 37 percent of the Western Ghats under the Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) zones – down from the 64 percent suggested by a previous panel. The report rocked the hilly districts of Idukki and Wayanad districts since November 2013 and this peaked when the present year began. The report was cleared by the union environment and forests ministry. Vested interests jumped in too, adding fat to the fire by suggesting that the “unfriendly” recommendations made in the report, if implemented, would make life miserable in the 123 villages in these districts.
Acting under duress, the Chandy government raised this issue at the highest-level involving both the then prime minister Manmohan Singh and the United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi, forcing the ministry to re-look the report, eventually clearing it, in the nick of the time before the Lok Sabha polls.
The Lok Sabha polls was yet another acid test for Chandy and with the BJP under Narendra Modi swamping the Congress across the country, in Kerala, despite a vociferous Left opposition election campaign, Chandy managed to cling on with respectability by winning 12 out of the 20 seats. In the process, Kerala became the second state after Karnataka to send the maximum number of Congress Lok Sabha members.
But this edge Chandy fizzled out after newly-ordained state Congress president Sudheeran put his foot down on the state’s new liquor policy.
The highly image-conscious Sudheeran, known for his strong stand against liquor, started giving Chandy sleepless nights by forcing him to come out with a non-practical policy, which, at one stroke, permitted only bars in five star hotels to operate, resulting in the closure of close to 700 bars in August.
The bar hotel owners association approached the court and with the case currently being heard, Sudheeran came under attack from the tourism industry and from a few other corners.
When the ruling front also expressed its dismay, at a meeting last week Sudheeran was silenced for his rigid approach. It gave the nod to Chandy to make practical corrections to the policy. That was done without a whimper of protest from Sudheeran.
As the liquor policy was discussed and debated, came yet another bolt from the blue when whistleblower bar owner Biju Ramesh said Finance Minister K.M.Mani, the country’s longest serving legislator – he has won every election since 1965 – had taken a bribe of Rs.1 crore from the bar owners.
Many thought that the Chandy government, enjoying a slender majority of just five seats in the 140-member assembly, would crumble as Mani’s party with nine members would pull out following the decision of the Vigilance department to register an FIR against Mani.
Mani, the wily politician, who at one point of time even considered to move over to the Left to become chief minister, the only post that has eluded him, however knew that any decision to pull out would turn to be counter-productive. After winning the full support of the entire ruling UDF, Mani decided that he would continue to play second fiddle to Chandy and openly said that he would prefer to remain where he is now.
With the year coming to a close, all those who know Chandy very well are aware that he becomes restless when there are no issues to be tackled as he has always proved that he excels in times of adversity.
All eyes are on what’s the next “trouble” waiting for him to overcome.