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  Open letter to the Kerala CM  
  Time to introspect  
  Dear Shri Oommen Chandy,

You may not remember me but we had an hour-long meeting at Chandigarh. You had come to the city to attend the conference of Congress chief ministers called by party chief Sonia Gandhi. I was also invited to a dinner hosted by Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda at his residence.

As you told me, we were the only Malayalis attending the dinner, although I noticed that A.K. Antony was also there. I found that you were very candid in expressing your views on the political situation in the state. I remember that I had to persuade you to join the high table, where you were sandwiched between Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Veerbhadra Singh and P. Chidambaram.

The next day's dinner was hosted by the then Punjab Chief Minister, Amarendra Singh, but you skipped it to attend a reception hosted by the Chandigarh Malayalis. I was also forced to give the dinner invitation a miss, antagonising the CM's 'media manager' Bharat Inder Singh Chahal. You listed many of Kerala's achievements, including the fact that it was the only state which had three international airports.

What I found amusing was your statement at the meeting that you preferred to be with "my people", rather than with other chief ministers. The last time I saw you was when the cortege of K. Karunakaran passed through my home town Kayamkulam. Night had already fallen and there was a brief halt to facilitate the people to pay their homage to their "Leader", as Karunakaran was affectionately called. I suddenly found you getting down from your vehicle, only to be swarmed by the assembled crowd.

I wondered why you took the risk of being jostled by the crowd. I overheard the wisecrack: "While we human beings breath oxygen, Oommen Chandy breathes crowds. The bigger the crowd the happier he is". Are all chief ministers like this?

Once, E.K. Nayanar visited Patna. The CPM office was located in a ramshackle building in a crowded locality in Rajendra Nagar. The local party secretary wanted the Malayalis in the area, including this writer, to organize a dinner for him.

Every family prepared one or two dishes and dinner was served at the party office, where he regaled us with his famous witticisms. Nayanar appeared more a 'karanavar' (family head) than the chief executive of Kerala. My first encounter with a Kerala chief minister was about 38 years ago when I sought an appointment with chief minister C. Achutha Menon.

I was pleasantly surprised when Menon himself attended to my call, routed through the PBX at Kerala House. The House was not as large as it is today. It was just a bungalow, famous as the house of Sir Sobha Singh, the pre-eminent builder of New Delhi, where his son and writer Khushwant Singh was born.

When I reached Kerala House, I found the banian and dhoti-clad chief minister sitting on an 'easy chair' in the middle of the room, right under the fan. He was reading an English book, when I was ushered into his room. There was no Thomas Kuruvila, privy to our conversation, or milling crowds in the corridor to meet Menon.

Most people rate Menon as the best chief minister of Kerala, because of his administrative brilliance and honesty. He had the habit of maintaining a daily diary of events. Though it was not meant for publication, the weekly, Janayugam (Peopleís Age), serialized it, much to my happiness.

A typical day's noting would be like this: "Today Kumaran came to meet me. He sacrificed a lot for the party. He seems to have lost his health. He wants a job for his daughter, who is a trained teacher. What can I do? I invited Kumaran to have lunch with me. I gave him Rs 100. His eyes moistened as he received the small amount. I, too, had to wipe away a tear".

Menon's simplicity, honesty and transparency were all clear in his diary. He built a small house in Thrisoor, where he spent his last years, away from the limelight, enjoying the company of his books.

You seem to be under the mistaken impression that you have to be surrounded by people, except when you sleep.

If you read the biographies of some of the greatest rulers in history like Julius Caesar, who is associated with Pax Romana, Alexander the Great, who conquered some countries without killing even one person, Joseph II, of the Holy Roman Empire, who abolished slavery and serfdom, Genghis Khan, who was rated by Time magazine as the world's greatest millennial leader, Elizabeth 1, called Virgin Queen because she was not dependent on her husband, Napolean, whose Code laid the administrative and judicial foundations of much of Europe and Abraham Lincoln, but for whom the US would have been two nations, you will know that they spent much of their time planning strategies and executing ideas, rather than attending sundry ceremonies like the first feeding of rice to a child.

Now, let me request you to do some introspection. How much time do you actually spend on administration, making new plans to develop the state? Are you not unnecessarily wasting your time traveling all over the state to attend functions which are best left to the local MLA or the panchayat president to attend?

When you became chief minister this time, you introduced round-the-clock webcast of your office. Any person anywhere in the world can see what happens in your office. You were, perhaps, the 'first ruler' in the world to do so. While many people appreciated your "transparency", I found it quite silly. I wrote a lead article in the New Indian Express questioning your decision. It was headlined "Round-the-clock tamasha" and can be accessed at the newspaper's web site.

I argued that the chief minister's office should not remain open 24 hours. If there is a major fire, it is the Fire Brigade which should be contacted, not the CM's office. I also argued that a woman, who would like to complain about, say, sexual harassment would not like the meeting to be webcast live on the Internet. As chief minister, your job is not to encourage people to send memorandums to you but to ensure that they send it to the ministers and officials concerned.

Alas, your "openness", which I call "tamasha", has not benefited you. Let me at the outset make it clear that I do not believe that you are involved with Sarita S. Nair, now in police custody, and her "husband" Biju Radhakrishnan, accused of murdering his first wife, and cheating a large number of people of at least Rs 5 crore. Yet, why are you now facing the gravest challenge in your political career?

As I write this, news has come that one Girish Kumar, employed in the 'grievances wing' of your office, was sacked for soliciting sexual favours from a woman who sought an appointment with you. Earlier, you were forced to sack your personal assistant Tenni Joppen and gunman Salimraj, who were found to have regular telephonic contacts with Sarita, who ran a fraudulent solar energy company.

The fact that you do not keep a mobile phone yourself and people contact you through the mobile phones of your personal staff lent some measure of credence to the Opposition charge that you were hand in glove with the questionable woman. It is quite normal for a senior executive to have all his official incoming and outgoing calls routed through his personal secretary.

However, it is the first time that I have heard about a chief minister who uses the mobile phones of his personal staff to receive calls. Mobile phone is an intrusion into a person's life but in this age of instant communication, a person holding a public office cannot afford not to have it. One charge against you is that you met Biju Radhakrishnan for "one hour".

It is your decency that you have given a clean chit to your party MP, M.I. Shahnawaz, at whose behest you met Radhakrishnan. I have heard the MP admitting on television that Radhakrishnan had approached him for help to set up a solar energy plant in his constituency. When the MP asked him to set up a pilot project, the Sarita-Radhakrishnan firm chickened out. So, the MP knew what kind of a person he was. Yet, he wanted you to give the fraudster an appointment!

Everybody knows what Radhakrishnan told you during that meeting. It was a complaint about his "wife" having an affair with one of your Cabinet colleagues. You could have dismissed him in one minute by asking him to file a written complaint. Why did you give him a patient hearing? It is not the chief minister's job to settle family disputes.

In India the law is that only a husband can allege adultery against his wife. In Sarita's case, he was not her husband! Earlier, you tried in vain to settle a "family dispute" between your former minister Ganesh Kumar and his wife Yamini Thankachi, who finally came out in the open showing pictures of the injuries they suffered at each other's hands.

Your troubles are similar to the one the late K. Karunakaran suffered when he was chief minister the last time. This is what he says in his autobiography "Patharathe Munnottu": "The ISRO spy case was a concocted story about two scientists, which did enormous damage to the morale of the entire scientific community".

The case was about the alleged involvement of a Maldivian woman, Mariam Rasheeda, and her friend, Fouzia Hassan, who was alleged to have illicit relations with two IRSO scientists, including Nambi Narayanan. The media and some politicians also played a role in spreading the story, which ultimately forced Karunakaran to resign. What saddened him was that he had to resign a day before he was to present his dream budget.

All of them have been exonerated of the charges. I remember Narayanan telling the media that what he could not tolerate was not the police torture but the neighbours' behaviour as if he was a traitor. I believed in the innocence of Narayanan, not because he began his day with a visit to the nearby temple but because he oozed spirituality when he spoke. Karunakaran never regained his political stature after the backstabbing by, sorry to say, Congress leaders like you.

It is significant that your problems have arisen from people you personally appointed. Why is it that Sarita Nair did not contact any of your senior officials, including IAS and Kerala State Service officials? Of course, I do not overlook the alleged involvement of A. Firoz, Director of Public Relations. I was shocked to read a recent report that many of those appointed by ministers in their personal staff have not passed even the SSLC exam. Is it not time that the practice of letting ministers appoint their own staff be done away with?

In your case, you have one Thomas Kuruvila to help you whenever you are in Delhi. Who is he and what is his status? That he has proximity to you is something every journalist in Delhi will confirm. Recently, he stayed for a few days in one of Delhi's costliest hotels. I know about the cost there as my daughter-in-law, who is a food writer, was invited to have a special pizza there, priced at Rs 9999 plus taxes.

I do not know whether you will survive the crisis with colleagues like R. Balakrishna Pillai, Ganesh Kumar, P.C. George and Ramesh Chennithala working at cross-purposes.

If you survive, I have a few suggestions: Cut short your tours, attend only functions that add to the dignity of your office, don't encourage people to throng your office and home, study the files carefully, discuss with people who know the subject, monitor your staff, keep the ministers under control and think about ways to develop Kerala as truly Godís own country. In between, I am sure you will also find enough time to read some books and comb your hair.

Yours etc

The writer can be reached at
Courtesy: Indian Currents
  By  A.J. Philip  
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