DA Case and AIADMK’s Rift Within: The Going Gets Tough For OPS
O Panneerselvam who found himself in the chief minister's chair in 2014, after a Bengaluru court convicted the late J Jayalalithaa in the disproportionate assets case, now finds himself in the dock in a DA case himself.
File photo of O Panneerselvam. (PTI)
It is the mother of all ironies. O Panneerselvam who found himself in the chief minister's chair in 2014, after a Bengaluru court convicted the late J Jayalalithaa in the disproportionate assets case, now finds himself in the dock in a DA case himself. The Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC) has informed the Madras High Court that it has begun investigating the case against OPS.
Two, the man who launched the ‘Dharma Yuddham' (Holy war) last February, projecting himself as squeaky clean as opposed to the “corrupt”' VK Sasikala and company, has been accused of having feet of clay. In fact, Panneerselvam's continuance in the cabinet itself is untenable when an inquiry has been ordered against him by a wing of the Tamil Nadu government.
The DVAC is headed by a Director who is a Director General or Additional DG of police rank officer of the Tamil Nadu cadre. Though it attempts to project an independent streak to tackle cases of corruption, its administrative control rests with the party in power.
Which is why it is natural for questions to be asked if the probe will be fair. DMK's MK Stalin has pointed out that the norm is that government servants against who corruption cases are initiated, are placed under suspension. Why shouldn't the same treatment be meted out to OPS?
The doubts arise because it has been four months since the DMK filed a complaint with the DVAC. It was after finding nothing moving in the case that the High court was approached. When the court made an oral observation about the possibility of handing over the case to the CBI, the DVAC hurriedly pointed out that a preliminary probe was ordered on July 18. Incidentally, this was a day after the DMK went to court.
The court has said that “the inquiry has to be completed as expeditiously as possible”. But how soon can that be? The DVAC manual in para 27 states that “every preliminary inquiry shall be completed with the greatest expedition and a report submitted to reach the headquarters of the DVAC in no case later than 2 months from the date of its registration''. By issuing the circular only on 18 July, the DVAC has bought time for itself.
But the counsel for the DMK has pointed to the Lalita Kumari v Government of UP case of 2014 where the Supreme court said about FIRs in cognisable cases that ``a preliminary inquiry should be time-bound and in any case, it should not exceed 7 days''.
Doubts also arise because of two other reasons. A DVAC probe ordered against Panneerselvam by the DMK government in 2006 was closed in 2012, when the AIADMK came to power, suggesting misuse of political clout.
Two, according to an RTI query filed by anti-corruption NGO Arappor Iyakkam in September 2017, the DVAC had not conducted a single surprise check on any government department from 2015 onwards. It also pointed out that the number of such checks came down from 56 in 2011 to just four in 2014, a pointer to the lack of zeal with which the DVAC handled the issue of corruption in government.
The charge against OPS is that he and his family members and associates have “amassed wealth beyond known sources of income and invested the same in companies and properties either in his name or in the names of others''. Those in the dock include his wife, children, brothers and their families and a business associate. Equally damaging is the diary entry by mining baron Sekar Reddy that records OPS and his aides receiving close to Rs 4 crore in six months in 2016.
The only consolation is that the internal dynamics of the AIADMK may ensure the case sees a semblance of a probe. Edappadi Palaniswami has every reason to push the pace of the probe, using the court order as cover. If the OPS wicket is down, it will mean the chief minister becomes the undisputed leader of the AIADMK. And Panneerselvam, whose clout within the party has diminished considerably, will be at Palaniswami's mercy if he wants a bailout. Even within the Thevar community to which he belongs, it is Panneerselvam's arch rival TTV Dinakaran who is seen as the leader.
To add to Panneerselvam's woes, his status as the blue-eyed boy of the BJP is a thing of the past. Union Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman snubbed him on Tuesday and to make matters worse, let the world know that she had done so.
Panneerselvam's high-profile visit to Delhi to meet Sitharaman came a cropper when she refused to meet him, humiliating him by making him sit in her office waiting room and turning him away. It is unlikely that such treatment would have been meted out to a non-NDA party whose 37 MPs supported the government during the no-confidence motion, without a nod from the BJP leadership.
That's some fall from grace for OPS who could meet the PM whenever he wanted at the height of the crisis in the AIADMK.
(Writer is a senior journalist. Views are personal.)
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