Kerala solar scam controversy reignited as behind-the-scenes political manoeuvres come to the fore

An article in a weekly has reignited the debate over Kerala's controversial solar scam case. It has been disclosed that the CPM asked a journalist to approach the then UDF government to set the stage for ending its Secretariat siege protest.

ByDileep V Kumar

Published May 18, 2024 | 9:00 AM Updated May 18, 2024 | 9:00 AM

File photo of John Brittas

A news article by a senior journalist has reignited the discussion surrounding the controversial solar scam case that rocked Kerala in 2013.

John Mundakkayam’s article in the weekly magazine “Samakalika Malayalam Varika” revealed new details of the political manoeuvres of the time.

Mundakkayam’s disclosure also brought fresh scrutiny on the actions of key political figures involved in the 2013 imbroglio.

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A call from Brittas

According to Mundakkayam, a conversation between two journalists set the stage for the calling-off of the indefinite Secretariat siege announced by the CPI(M)-led LDF on 12 August, 2013, demanding the resignation of then chief minister Oommen Chandy.

“As I was in the office watching the progress of the protest, I got a call from John Brittas (current Rajya Sabha member and the then-managing director of the CPI(M) run Kairali TV). He asked me, shouldn’t the protest come to an end?” wrote Mundakkayam in the article.

He added, “I immediately knew that he was calling on behalf of the party. He wanted me to inform the chief minister that the protest would be called off if a press conference was convened immediately to announce a judicial probe into the solar scam.”

The journalist continued: “I brought to his notice that this has already been announced, but he insisted on a press conference.”

He also noted: “I informed the chief minister. But the CM wanted me to inform this to IUML leader PK Kunjalikutty. I informed him. He informed this to then home minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan.”

According to Mundakkayam, Thiruvanchoor contacted Brittas and CPI(M) leader Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, who has since passed away.

Following that, NK Premachandran, who was then with the LDF, held talks with UDF leaders and the stage was set for calling off the protest.

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The protest and its withdrawal

It was with much fanfare that the LDF announced its indefinite Secretariat siege in protest against the solar scam.

It then stated that it would press for Chandy’s resignation over the solar scam following the UDF government’s decision to order a judicial inquiry into the scandal.

However, the LDF had to end the siege on 13 August, 2013, with a whimper with reasons unknown to the public.

It was alleged back then that LDF and UDF leaders participated in several rounds of backroom deliberations and only then was the protest called off.

Talking to reporters back then, Chandy announced a judicial inquiry into the solar scam and said the government would seek the services of a sitting judge of the Kerala High Court for it.

He added that the terms of reference of the inquiry would be decided after discussions with the Opposition.

Barely an hour later, the then-CPI(M) state secretary and current Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan announced that the Secretariat siege had been called off.

He added that the boycott of the chief minister and the black-flag demonstration against him would continue as Chandy refused to step down, as demanded by the Opposition.

According to Mundakkayam, the abrupt conclusion of the protest, following the announcement of the inquiry, left several CPI(M) leaders — including Thomas Isaac — feeling disgruntled and dissatisfied with the outcome.

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Brittas denies narrative

In response to Mundakkayam’s revelations, Brittas told reporters on Friday, 17 May, that Mundakkayam’s account was nothing but fiction.

Brittas contended that it was actually Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, the then-home minister, who called him seeking his intervention to withdraw the protest.

“He said the government was ready for a compromise and willing to accept the demands,” said the Rajya Sabha member.

“He contacted me through the phone of Cheriyan Philip, who was then a fellow-traveller of the Left (now with Congress), and seeking a solution to end the solar protest,” said Brittas.

“Radhakrishnan informed me that the government was ready to compromise, accepting the demands of the Opposition,” he added.

Training his guns at Mundakkayam, Brittas said, “He was a journalist at that time. I wonder why he didn’t write about this back then if he knew so much. He is now coming up with fictitious stories years later.”

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Thiruvanchoor’s and Philip’s versions

Reacting to the revelation, Radhakrishnan told reporters that the Congress-led UDF had felt the need to resolve the issue and tried to do so.

He indicated that the outcome of the discussion was as per the wish of the then-ruling front.

He, however, also said it was Brittas who contacted him using Cheriyan Philip’s phone.

He ven brushed aside the allegations that the then UDF government made some compromises in the inquiry of slain RMP leader TP Chandrasekharan.

At the same time, Philip claimed that it was because of senior CPI(M) leader VS Achuthanandan’s insistence that the LDF launched the Secretariat siege.

He, however, said that it was Radhakrishnan who contacted Brittas through him, seeking a way to end the siege.

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CPI(M)-Congress nexus?

Responding to the development, Kerala BJP president K Surendran said that the revelation of Mundakkayam highlighted the nexus between CPI(M) and Congress.

“It should be remembered that some Congress leaders had alleged that the then UDF government decided to settle the LDF protest by compromising in its inquiry into the Chandrasekharan murder case,” he said.

The solar scam case, which involved allegations of fraudulent solar energy projects and financial scams, had significant political repercussions in the state.

The new revelations by Mundakkayam have stirred up old controversies, prompting renewed debate over the political strategies employed during the crisis.

It remains to be seen how these new disclosures will make the political scene volatile in the state.

(Edited by Arkadev Ghoshal)