New Delhi: In a setback to Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Friday rejected his proposal to induct a reluctant PCC chief Ramesh Chennithala into his government which is under attack over the solar panel scam.
The decision follows hectic discussions which went on for nearly a week between Chandy, Chennithala, senior leader A.K. Antony and representatives of the party's high command — the Congress president's political secretary, Ahmed Patel, and the AICC General Secretary (in-charge of Kerala) Mukul Wasnik.
Chennithala, who has been at the helm of the party in Kerala for the last eight years, had made it clear he was not keen on joining the state government as a minister. However, Chandy wanted the PCC chief's entry into his Cabinet to give a breather to his government.
"Today, I am very happy that the Congress president approved my position and gave the consent for me to continue as PCC president and not join the government. I will work for the party in the ensuing Lok Sabha polls and I will try my level best to get more seats in the state," Chennithala said after his meeting with Gandhi. He met the party president hours after Chandy had held discussions with her separately.
"When the new government was formed under the leadership of Chandy, I was very reluctant to join it. I'd categorically stated that I was not interested in joining the government," the PCC chief said.
Chennithala, who has been asked to stay back in Delhi by the party high command, is learnt to have toughened his stand after two major allies of the Congress in the state — Indian Union Muslim League and Kerala Congress (Mani) — expressed reservations over his induction as Deputy Chief Minister.
The two alliance members had often stated that as key partners, they too had a claim to the slot, which is now non-existent. "I'm a staunch Congress loyalist. I will not compromise with my party's interest for a ministerial berth... But I am pained, because my name has been unnecessarily dragged into a controversy. I feel that was unnecessary. It was unwarranted," Chennithala said.
Sonia Gandhi's decision to allow Chennithala to continue as PCC president comes at a time when there has been unease in the state Congress and UDF over the solar panel scam as they feel it will hurt the Front's prospects in coming Lok Sabha polls.
The solar panel scam pertains to financial cheating of large number of people by accused Saritha Nair and Biju Radhakrishnan. It took a serious political turn after the arrest of a personal aide of Chandy for his alleged links with the fraudsters.
Four personal staff members of Chandy were removed and state Public Relations Director A. Firoz was arrested in a related case. Chennithala said as the PCC Chief he will continue his all support to the Chandy-led government.
He said he was pained by the 'unnecessary' discussion took place in the state about his Cabinet entry immediately after the successful conclusion of his Kerala Yatra - a journey undertaken from Kasargode to Thiruvananthapuram to strengthen the organisational base of the party some months ago.
"AICC Vice president Rahul Gandhi attended the concluding session of Kerala Yatra. In between the Yatra, there was some discussions. Some of my friends came and asked me to join the government. They had taken the consent of Chief Minister Oommen Chandy.
"I am pained for the last five months, my name was unnecessarily dragged into the controversy and discussion was going on in Kerala, which I never intended," Chennithala said.
Recalling his past experience as All India Youth Congress chief and NSU(I) chief during Rajiv Gandhi's period, and his tenure as a minister in Karunakaran cabinet 28 years ago, the PCC Chief said that he had never asked anyone to make him Minister.
"I never asked anyone to make me a minister. 28 years ago in Karunakaran government, I was made a minister by Karunakaran on the direction of Rajiv Gandhi. So it is nothing new for me and I was a Congress Working Committee member, I was president of All India Youth Congress, NSU (I) all India president," Chennithala said.