Kerala's longest serving Finance Minister K M Mani on Monday appeared to be on his way out as pressure mounted on him from several quarters to resign following certain adverse remarks made by the Kerala High Court relating to the bar bribery case.
Mani had been accused of taking a bribe of Rs 1 crore from a liquor baron to stall a move to bring about a phased prohibition programme in the state spearheaded by V M Sudheeran, President of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee.
Mani had denied the charges but a vigilance probe was initiated which cleared him. The government had opposed a further probe proposed by the Special Vigilance Court.The High Court has now upheld the Special Vigilance Court's direction seeking a further probe into the matter.
Antagonists within his own Kerala Congress (Mani) party, the United Democratic Front and the opposition Left Democratic Front have their daggers drawn both for Mani and Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, whose resignation is also being sought on the grounds that he has shielded a 'corrupt' minister.
HC Justice B Kemal Pasha on Monday, while delivering the verdict on an appeal by the Vigilance Additional DGP, representing the government, seeking to set aside the Vigilance Court order directing a further probe against Mani in the bar bribery scam, said that it found no fault in the Vigilance Court's order for a further probe in the case against the Minister.
Observing that Caesar's wife should be above suspicion, Justice Pasha asked why the government was worried about a further probe into the case. The HC remarked that it is up to Mani to decide whether he should continue as state finance minister.
The High Court also flayed the government for spending tax payers' money to defend a minister who is facing corruption charges.
Several Congress party members like MLA TN Prathapan, MLA VD Sateeshan and Congress party office bearer AP Anil Kumar have asked Mani to resign immediately and face the probe.
The oppostion CPI(M) led by state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan have also mounted a voiceferous protest and street campaign to get Mani to resign.
While UDF leaders went into informal confabulations on Monday evening, the UDF leadership, including Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala, is expected to take a call on the matter at a meeting scheduled for Tuesday morning. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has confirmed the meeting.
Asked if Mani's resignation has been sought, he asked: "Who has sought his resignation?", reported Madhyamam daily.
Reacting to the snowballing political situation, Finance Minister K.M Mani alleged that there was a conspiracy against him.
"At my party meeting tomorrow (Tuesday), we will discuss this. But I wish to add that there has been a conspiracy in this and it will come out too," Mani told reporters.
Earlier, in the court, Justice Pasha remarked that "there were circumstances leading to show that there was payment of illegal gratification".
Senior Congress leader and former Union minister Kapil Sibal, representing the Vigilance department, and state advocate general K P Dandapani, stood up and strongly opposed the remark after which the references were deleted from the final order, Times of India reported.