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Bar case: Mani remains defiant, gets support from party leaders

Bar case: Mani remains defiant, gets support from party leaders

Thiruvananthapuram: Amidst the clamour for Finance minister KM Mani's resignation over the bar bribery scandal, his party Kerala Congress (M) Tuesday said it saw no reason for their leader to step down, a day after high court cleared the decks for further investigation against him in the case.

In a startling claim, party leader and government chief whip Thomas Unniyadan said that the High Court order Monday was, in fact, not against Mani but in his favour as the Vigilance Court observations against the state finance minister had been expunged.

"There is not even a word against Mani in the verdict. Why should he resign? The high court verdict is favouring the minister. Has the court said anywhere that Mani was guilty? And, so, there is no reason for him to resign," he told reporters here, adding that the verdict had been wrongly interpreted by the media.

Referring to the calls in various quarters for Mani to step down, including demands within Congress itself, he countered that "no one had asked Mani to resign".

Asked if Kerala Congress (M) was divided over the issue, Unniyadan said the party was united and "solidly" behind its leader.

According to reports, a section within KC(M), led by Irrigation Minister PJ Joseph and two MLAs loyal to him -- TU Kuruvilla and Mons Joseph -- were of the opinion that Mani should step down.

Industries Minister PK Kunhalikutty, leader of IUML, another key ally of the Congress-led ruling UDF, said leaders met today at the residence of Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and discussed the issue.

Meanwhile, Congress mouthpiece 'Veekshanam', in a hard- hitting editorial today, said that Mani's resignation was "inevitable".

The KC(M) stand has pushed UDF into yet another crisis, days after its civic poll drubbing and in light of the high court's adverse remarks against Mani Monday, as the coalition is bracing for Assembly elections next year in the state.

Also, opposition CPI(M)-led LDF Tuesday decided to intensify its agitation to put pressure on Mani to resign. According to LDF leaders, they will not allow Mani to move freely in the state and block him.

Mani's stand was a challenge to the people and reflected his arrogance, they charged.

High court had Monday cleared the decks for further investigation against Mani in the bar bribery case, observing that the common man should not feel that no probe is conducted when the accused is a minister.

Ordering further inquiries against Mani in the bar bribery case, the Vigilance Court in Thiruvananthapuram had on October 29 observed that there are "sufficient materials for making out a prima facie case".

An FIR had been filed against Mani last year after a "quick verification" by the vigilance department of the charges levelled by Kerala State Bar Hotel Owners' Association working President Biju Ramesh that the minister had accepted a Rs 1 crore bribe for renewal of licences of more than 400 Indian Made Foreign Liquor bars in the state.

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