Arya Rajendran letter: Nepotism and the Kerala CPI(M)

Kerala has witnessed several instances of large-scale nepotism in six years under Pinarayi Vijayan. The controversy surrounding Arya Rajendran is just the latest incident.

ByK A Shaji

Published Nov 07, 2022 | 10:00 AM Updated Nov 07, 2022 | 5:19 PM

BJP leaders protest in Thiruvananthapuram against Mayor Arya Rajendran on Monday, 07 November, 2022.

The spectre of nepotism continues to haunt the CPI(M), the largest constituent in the ruling LDF in Kerala. The latest in the string of allegations is a letter Arya Rajendran, the mayor of Thiruvananthapuram City Corporation, purportedly sent to the party’s District Committee Secretary Anavoor Nagappan.

The letter, written on the mayor’s official letterhead and carrying her signature and the corporation’s official seal, requested Nagappan for a list of party workers to fill up 295 temporary posts in urban primary health centres (PHCs).

The vacancies included 74 posts of doctors, 66 staff nurses, and 64 pharmacists.

The allegation came even as the government is locked in a battle with Governor Arif Mohammad Khan, who has demanded the resignation of vice-chancellors in the state, citing a breach of University Grants Commission norms in their appointments.

The CPI(M) went into damage-control mode soon after a leading Malayalam newspaper made Arya Rajendran’s letter public. Responding to the allegation, Nagappan denied receiving such a letter.

The party’s state leadership preferred to evade questions regarding the origin of the letter. While Nagappan said that the party would investigate the development, CPI(M) State Secretary MV Govindan said there was no precedent of elected people’s representatives writing letters to the party leadership asking for lists to fill vacancies.

Employment exchanges to the fore

The damage-control measures included a decision to entrust employment exchanges under the Department of Labour to fill temporary vacancies in local self-government bodies across the state.

On Sunday, 6 November, Arya Rajendran — the youngest mayor in the country — met Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan late in the evening. She reportedly requested his intervention to find the source of the letter and those “behind it”.

It is suspected that Arya Rajendran’s letter was leaked to the media thanks to intra-party rivalry.

When asked whether the letter was fabricated, Arya Rajendran and Nagappan said only investigations could reveal the truth. The Congress-led Opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) and the BJP have demanded the resignation of Arya Rajendran, and the issue would keep the already embattled CPI(M) on the defensive.

Thiruvananthapuram Mayor Arya Rajendran

It is suspected that Thiruvananthapuram Mayor Arya Rajendran’s letter was leaked due to intra-party rivalry (Arya Rajendran/Twitter)

Political observers, however, are viewing the latest development as a sequel to the nepotism that the CPI(M) has been practising since 2016 when the first Pinarayi Vijayan government took charge.

The party has been rocked by allegations of facilitating backdoor entry to lucrative government jobs — both temporary and permanent — to close party aides and relatives of leaders.

The ongoing standoff between Governor Khan and the state government is rooted in the party leadership’s alleged wilful attempts to appoint family members of ministers and top leaders in different universities.

Whenever party cadres and relatives were given temporary postings, they were later made permanent through special government orders.

Not the first letter

Despite its progressive moorings and occasional clamouring for integrity and accountability in public life, the CPI(M) in Kerala has taken nepotism to unprecedented heights in the six years since Vijayan assumed power.

Incidentally, a similar letter that CPI(M)’s parliamentary party secretary (in the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation Council) DR Anil wrote to Nagappan, too, is being debated.

In the letter, Anil sought a list of party cadres for appointments to temporary posts in a leading hospital under the corporation.

Interestingly, Arya Rajendran courted controversy a couple of days after taking part in a party-led agitation in New Delhi against the alleged backdoor appointments by the Union government, denying opportunities to qualified candidates.

Arya Rajendran won national attention by becoming the country’s youngest mayor and a youth icon in 2020. She was then a second-year BSc Mathematics student at All Saints College in the city. The city corporation under her, however, has faced several charges of violation of rules in the past several months.

Local Affairs Minister MB Rajesh’s intervention by assigning employment exchanges to make temporary appointments failed to douse the protests by the youth wings of the Congress and BJP.

Incidentally, the government had three days ago retracted its decision to enhance the retirement age of employees under different corporations. Protests by youth organisations forced the government to take a U-turn.

Also read: Meet the man who unintentionally armed Governor Khan in VC row

The Kerala CPI(M) nepotism trail

CPI(M) strongman EP Jayarajan had to resign from the Cabinet on 14 October, 2016, following allegations of appointing a family member as the head of a public sector unit. He was then the minister for industries.

It was alleged that he had facilitated the appointment of Sudheer Nambiar, son of his wife’s sister and top CPI(M) leader PK Sreemathi, as the managing director of the Kerala State Industrial Development Enterprise. A vigilance probe absolved him the next year.

CPI(M) EP Jayarajan had to resign in 2016 after charges of nepotism

CPI(M) strongman and then Kerala minister EP Jayarajan had to resign in 2016 after charges of nepotism (EP Jayarajan/Twitter)

Jayarajan, now the LDF convener, was not the only minister who had to resign on charges of nepotism. KT Jaleel, who was holding the higher education portfolio, had to resign following adverse remarks by the Lokayukta on 13 April, 2021.

Jaleel was accused of appointing a close relative, KT Adeeb, as general manager of a finance corporation meant for the welfare of minority communities.

In August this year, the governor intervened in the appointment of Priya Varghese, wife of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s private secretary KK Ragesh, as an associate professor at Kannur University. Governor Khan put her appointment on hold following allegations that the selection process was rigged.

The Kerala High Court recently stayed the appointment of PM Shahala, wife of Assembly Speaker AN Shamseer, in Kannur University.

In Kasaragod, the CPI(M) ensured temporary government jobs for the wives of Peethambaran, Saji and Suresh, jailed for murdering Congress workers Kripesh and Sarathlal.

“The controversy over Arya Rajendran’s letter is just the tip of the iceberg. The CPI(M) might have made numerous such appointments in different local bodies across Kerala. A thorough investigation is needed into all these appointments,” said rights activist M Shajarkhan, who exposed irregular appointments in the higher education sector.

“The party is making a mockery of the Public Service Commission and employment exchanges. By bypassing such institutions, the party is being dishonest towards scores of qualified jobless youths in Kerala,” he added.

(These are the personal views of the author)