Mark Twain prefaced one of his popular tales with these words: "It may have happened, it may not have happened but it could have happened." These words may be echoing in the minds of Keralites as the media bombards them with particulars of two scandals.
One of the scandals has embarrassed the Congress, which heads the government in New Delhi, and the other has caused discomfiture to the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which heads the Left Democratic Front that rules the state.
At the centre of the first scandal is Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor. The central character of the second one is Tomin J Thachankary, an inspector general of police who is reputedly close to the state CPI-M leadership.
Tharoor got into trouble following the disclosure that Dubai-based Sunanda Pushkar, whom he reportedly plans to marry, obtained sweat equity in Rendezvous consortium, which won the Indian Premier League's Kochi cricket team for US$333 million in an auction last month.
Tharoor admitted to mentoring the consortium. However, he said his sole interest was to get an IPL team for his state. He asserted he had no financial stake in the consortium.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition in Parliament, and the CPI-M charged Tharoor with misusing his office. The BJP stalled the proceedings of Parliament last week and vowed to keep up pressure until the Prime Minister made a statement.
Thachankary's troubles began when it came to light that after seeking leave to go to Sikkim on holiday he visited some Gulf States. Janata Dal (S) leader M P Veerendrakumar linked his travel with that of CPI-M State Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, who is currently on a fund-raising tour of the Gulf region.
A former United Nations bureaucrat who failed in his bid for the post of Secretary General, Shashi Tharoor was nominated by the Congress to contest for the Lok Sabha from Thiruvananthapuram. A section of the party, viewing him as an outsider, took a hostile position, but the city's middle class voters, viewing him as a change from the conventional politician, plumped for him. Early in his ministerial career he encountered some tweeting troubles but the party leadership stood by him.
Thachankary, an Indian Police Service officer and a lyricist, is known to have helped the CPI-M in setting up the television channel it controls. He is facing some serious charges like illegal detention and torture and possession of wealth in excess of his known sources of income.
Did Tharoor misuse his position? Did Thachankary travel in aid of the party? The material on record is not enough to go beyond Mark Twain's words.
When Tharoor came under attack in Parliament, no colleague rose to defend him. However, the controversy has not affected his standing among the middle class. A survey by the New Indian Express showed that 57 per cent of the respondents considered Sunanda Pushkar his proxy but 58 per cent still regarded him as an honest man.
The Thachankary affair revived the sectarianism in the CPI-M which had subsided after VS Achuthanandan's demotion from the Politburo to the Central Committee in July last year. Asserting his authority as Chief Minister, he ordered the officer's suspension even as Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan was seeking to close the matter with his transfer from the post of Inspector General, Kannur range.
Four years ago the anti-piracy cell of the state police had raided a recording studio owned by Thachankary's wife in connection with piracy allegations. The officer conducting the raid was recalled before he could complete the mission. Achuthanandan intervened on his behalf but the party thwarted him.
Lately the state party leadership had been ensuring Achuthanandan's compliance with its wishes on controversial issues by issuing directives to him ahead of Cabinet meetings. By acting against Thachankary while Pinarayi Vijayan and Kodiyeri Balakrishnan were away from the capital, he has presented them with a fait accompli.
While Achuthanandan has primacy in the government, as Politburo members, Vijayan and Balakrishnan now rank above him in the party.
The final episodes of the Tharoor and Thachankary serials are still awaited as these lines are being written. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who heard Tharoor's explanation and discussed the matter with Congress President Sonia Gandhi and senior party colleagues, will take a decision on whether or not to retain him in the council of ministers. The state CPI-M is expected to look into the Thachankary affair after Pinarayi Vijayan returns next week.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, April 19, 2010.