Within three months of CPI-M strongman Pinarayi Vijayan taking over the reins of Kerala’s administration, the spotlight has shifted from him to the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) in general and its chief, Jacob Thomas, in particular, as he has by now nailed two leading former ministers – K.M. Mani and K. Babu.
Thomas who holds the rank of director general of police (DGP) has never been on the right side of rival UDF governments.
The latest instance was in the latter half of 2014, when the alleged bar scam surfaced and saw the Oommen Chandy government’s credibility touching an all-time low. This followed the exit of Finance Minister K.M. Mani after bar owner Biju Ramesh alleged that bribes were paid to reopen bars that had been shut in pursuance of the government’s new liquor policy. Thomas was then the second in command at the VACB and the decision to shunt him out had raised eyebrows.
Thomas was moved to head the fire services department and there too, he did not last and was shifted to the Kerala Police Housing and Construction Corporation.
Now, with Vijayan assuming office on May 25, one of his first decisions was to bring Thomas back by naming the VACB head. After keeping a low profile for two months, he got into the act and took on Mani and Babu, intensifying the action against them.
Earlier this month, VACB officials came knocking at the doors of Babu, his two daughters and two of his aides. It was something quite unprecedented for Kerala, where, over the years, when power alternates every five years between the Left and the Congress-led UDF, practically every allegation of corruption raised by these parties are swept under the carpet.
Thus, the only top political leader who had to cool his heels in jail in a corruption case was then UDF leader R.Balakrishna Pillai in 2011.
Sleuths also recorded Mani’s statement and registered two fresh cases against the longest serving legislator, who has represented Palai in Kottayam district from 1967 onwards.
Not surprisingly, at the first meeting of the United Democratic Front (UDF) since the vigilance raids started, the leadership appeared to be jittery and its convenor, minister and speaker P.P. Thankachen, said there was a vindictive element touch as the Vijayan government was using the VACB as a tool to take on its political adversaries.
Vijayan, on expected lines, denied that the raids were politically motivated and said it was just law taking its own course.
But sources in the VACB point out that Thomas has only just begun and has made it clear that his job is to weed out corruption and so has asked his officers to keep a tab on all government officials.
Thomas is now said to be working on files pertaining to more than half a dozen former ministers in Chandy’s cabinet whose names had surfaced in alleged corrupt deals in their departments.
With the assembly session scheduled later this month, it remains to be seen if Vijayan’s ‘vigilance’ – the star of the moment – has been able to silence the UDF as it’s on the floor of the assembly that the rival fronts vent out their anger.