Thiruvananthapuram: Beleaguered Kerala Finance Minister KM Mani, caught in a Rs 1 crore graft allegation, got a double reprieve Wednesday from the Lokayukta and Chief Minister Oommen Chandy.
While Lokayukta Pious C Kuriakose dismissed a petition seeking a probe into the allegation citing lack of evidence, Chandy said the entire cabinet is behind Mani as everyone knows that this was a baseless allegation.
Trouble began for the 81-year-old Mani, a legislator since 1967 after bar owner Biju Ramesh last week levelled an allegation that the former took Rs 1 crore for allowing 418 bars to remain open.
It was in August that the Kerala government announced its new liquor policy wherein it said that as part of achieving prohibition in a phased manner, barring 21 five-star hotels, all other hotels should close their bars.
"None in the know of things will ever believe the allegation levelled against Mani," said Chandy and shot down a question that the finance minister has offered to step down.
"Who told you all this that he has offered to resign. Nothing of that sort has taken place. Ever since I took over in 2011, speculations have been rife that my government will collapse as some allies will walk out. None can disturb the United Democratic Front (UDF) and Mani is not only a senior leader but one of the architects and its founder," said Chandy after the weekly cabinet meeting.
When pressed further that Mani's party -- Kerala Congress (Mani) -- has said that the present episode is part of a well planned-out conspiracy to keep him in the UDF, Chandy shot back: "When and where did you hear that the CPI-M has welcomed Mani to their fold."
Chandy also lashed out at the inconsistency in demands put up by Leader of Opposition VS Achuthanandan over the probe as he first demanded a vigilance probe and that the government has already constituted a police team to go into the graft allegation.
The chief minister said: "He has always been inconsistent, but I can't because I have given the order. After that was given, Achuthanandan said he wants a CBI probe."
Meanwhile, the CPI-M state secretariat held an emergency meeting after the media went to town over differences in the party as politburo member MA Baby demanded a judicial probe, Achuthanandan sought a vigilance and then CBI probe, while party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan said that a state police investigation is enough.
Vijayan told reporters Wednesday: "We met here today and we demand that Mani should quit. If he doesn't do, then Chandy should remove him. Also, the state government should form a special investigation team and it should be supervised by the court as other forms of probe like the vigilance, CBI or even a judicial one has its own inherent weakness."