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In Black & White - Marxists and their theatre of the absurd

In Black & White - Marxists and their theatre of the absurd

Author: Balbir K. Punj
Publication: The Asian Age
Date: February 13, 2009

Introduction: 'The Marxists spared no effort to keep the CBI out of the Lavalin probe. Two of Delhi's topmost lawyers were flown to Kochi to argue the case while '72 advocates sought to build a legal wall around any attempt to send the probe to the CBI

With Lok Sabha elections around the corner, theatre of the absurd is at its best in the country. The CPI(M) supermo Prakash Karat is busy building his Third Alternative, promising a stable government at the Centre with a collection of several regional leaders, each of whom wants to be Prime Minister, and the Marxists themselves split down the middle. The absurdity of this claim is matched only by Mr Karat's daily rant against MNCs and his promise of promoting self-help while his party, as seen in the Lavalin case in Marxist-ruled Kerala, is ready to strike under-the-table deals with the same hated MNCs as long as the "prize" is of the right size! A deeply divided Marxist party is seeking to build a "stable government" under the Third Alternative with competing and highly self-willed prime ministerial candidates, from Mayawati to J. Jayalalithaa. It wants to unfurl a corruption-free government, though its own top leaders are facing corruption charges; and it wants to promote national selfsufficiency when its hands are tainted with dubious deals with international companies! Perhaps, this is where politics begins to resemble a farce but ends as a tragedy.

To the utter discomfiture of the entire Left in the country, the war in Kerala is not so much between the ruling CPM and the main Opposition, the Congress, it is within the Marxist party itself. State CPM secretary Pinarayi Vijayan has been named as an accused by the CBI in the Lavalin case. The Politburo has sought to defend him by claiming that the CBI has acted under political pressure of the Congress which is seeking revenge for withdrawal of support to the UPA government in July last year.

The corruption case relates to a contract given to a Canadabased engineering firm, SNC Lavalin, for the repair and retrofitting of three hydropower stations in Kerala in 1995. Even though the Indian engineering giant Bhel was prepared to do the job at a lower cost, the state government, then under the Marxist rule, preferred the Canadians. Mr Vijayan, who was then the power minister in the Left Democratic Front government, himself led a delegation to Canada to finalise the contract.

The Rs 370 crores contract was a total disaster. The work Lavalin did was far from satisfactory. And though Lavalin's quotations were much higher than what Bhel had quoted for the same project, the deal was granted to the Canadian firm on the promise that it would give Rs 88 crores worth of equipment for a cancer treatment centre at Thalasserry. Yet, in the final contract there was no link between the two and no obligation on the p firm to fulfil its promise to the j cancer centre. Surprisingly, the t Canadian firm did not keep the money in a government account, c but preferred to park it in the b account of its Indian agent who b demanded a certificate from the s state that the work had been done satisfactorily, when it was- s n't, before releasing funds. Tha- t lasserry is a Marxist stronghold e and the constituency of present l Kerala home minister, Kodiyeri e Balakrishanan, a lieutenant of c Mr Vijayan. t The Marxist government d spared no effort to keep the CBI c out of this probe. Two of Delhi's i topmost lawyers were flown to e Kochi to argue the government's case and, including government's own advocate-general f and other top local lawyers, as many as 72 advocates sought to build a legal wall around any attempt to send the probe to the CBI. The Kerala high court wondered why the state was avoiding a CBI probe and insisted on the central agency investigating the case and submitting a report to it. This was a huge setback for the Vijayan faction.

Last month, the CBI sent its report to the high court, documenting Mr Vijayan's key role in the scam. To bypass the procedural requirement - all projects above Rs 100 crores require a sanction from the Centre - the ministry under Mr Vijayan sliced the Rs 370 crores project into several small projects, a violation of all international norms in project bidding. Also, SNC Lavalin was itself a consultant for the selection of bidders. But on some pretext the bids were cancelled and the consultant was given the contract.

The CBI now has to get the state government's permission to initiate prosecution as officers, serving and retired, are involved in the case. The state government thus has one more chance to block the prosecution though this might bring it in direct conflict with the high court. The Marxists' latest move is to seek the advice of the governor on this issue and delay the matter as much as possible.

That this seedy affair of favouring a Canadian MNC over an Indian PSU burst out right on the eve of elections is the worst thing that could have happened to the Marxists, especially for Mr Karat who is busy building the Third Alternative. The Marxists have, for so long, been trying to paint themselves lily white by asking for every case to be entrusted to the CBI for probe. But in the Lavalin issue, where they are the accused, they turned turtle.

The image of the Marxist cadre as a solid phalanx in politics has also been shattered by the deadly combat in which Kerala chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan and Mr Karat are engaged. The Marxists are in the habit of painting the Bharatiya Janata Party as a demon but the public would be drawing a comparison between Marxists' political gyration to get out of the Lavalin case with the BJP leader L.K. Advani's proclaiming in the 90s not to contest elections till the alleged corruption charges, thrown on them in the hawala case, were lifted by the courts even though there was no evidence except some notes in a diary.

Balbir K. Punj can be contacted at punjbk@gmail.com

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