In the worst crisis faced by the 142-day-old Pinarayi Vijayan government in Kerala, a key cabinet member and Industries minister E P Jayarajan resigned today in the wake of the raging row over appointment of his nephew to a key post in a state PSU.
The decision to permit Jayarajan, a Central committee member, to resign was taken at the nearly two-and-a-half hour long state Secretariat meeting here this morning in the presence of CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishan and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
Over the past few days government has been under attack from opposition Congress-led UDF and BJP over appointments of Jayarajan's close relatives on key posts in Public Sector units.
Jayarajan, considered number two in cabinet and close to Chief Minister Vijayan, had appointed his nephew P K Sudheer, son of P K Sremathi, party MP from Kannur and another Central Committee member and Deepthi Nishad, daughter-in law of his brother as Managing Director and General Manager respectively.
His continuation as minister became untenable as a majority of state secretariat members voiced concern over the development as the issue could dent the image of the LDF government, which had come to power promising a transparent and corruption free governance.
Announcing the Secretariat's decision, Balakrishnan told reporters that Jayarajan had wanted to resign to"uphold the party's image and set an exemplary model in contrast to the previous Congress-led UDF government".
"CPI(M) is against any illegal appointments. However, the party does not think that being a relative of a leader is a disqualification to get a job in government service," he said.
Pointing out that despite being dogged by controversies, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundara Raje Scindia had not resigned, Balakrishan said the BJP had in fact 'protected' them.
Attacking the UDF,he said the Front had amended a law to appoint relatives of ministers.
The present decision of CPI(M) is to make clear that "our stand is different from that of UDF and BJP".
Asked if the controversy had dented the government's image, he said: "Do you think the Pinarayi government's image will be dented with an appointment controversy?"
CPI(M) was of the opinion that alleged irregularities in appointments during the term of the previous UDF government should also be investigated, he said.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said he had received Jayarajan's resignation letter.
Reacting to the development, CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury said that the party did not view the resignation as a 'setback'.
"Taking corrective measures is not a setback at all. We are a party of principles and values. The state secretariat has taken a decision and it is good. Correcting mistakes is never a setback. That shows the maturity and different character (of the party)", he said.
"In this case there was a mistake, we corrected it unlike the previous UDF government", Yechury said.
Asked if CPI-M would act against Jayarajan and Sreemathi, he said as they are central committee members, any decision on them will be taken by the party central leadership.
Politburo member S R Pillai said to err is human and there can be mistakes.
CPI, the second largest partner in LDF, which had hit out against Jayarajan, stating that nepotism was equivalent to corruption, welcomed the resignation.
Former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said Jayarajan had no other option but to resign.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said the row would not end with Jayarajan's resignation. A comprehensive probe was needed and the Chief Minister's office also should be brought under the ambit of investigation.
Describing the resignation as a natural action, KPCC President V M Sudheeran said Jayarajan had to face nepotism and corruption charges and he was forced to resign just a few months after the LDF government came to power.
BJP leader V Muraleedharan said the Pinarayi Vijayan government had to succumb to pressure due to the feelings of the people towards corruption.
"The problems will not end with this resignation. There is a complaint before Vigilance court and a case should be registered against Jayarajan," he said.
Meanwhile, Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau informed a Special Court here today that a preliminary probe into the appointment row against Jayarjan had been initiated.
Jayarajan, who also handled the Sports portfolio, had kicked up controversy when he removed internationally renowned athlete Anju Bobby George as President of Kerala State Sports Council, alleging nepotism by her in appointments in the Body.
He had also been trolled in the social media after he described boxer Mohammed Ali as a sports person from Kerala who had brought laurels to the state by winning many medals.
He made the comment when his reaction was sought after Ali's death.
The assembly is scheduled to meet again from November 18 after the pooja holidays and the resignation of Jayarajan is expected to blunt the Opposition attack to a certain extent.
The UDF Opposition had disrupted and boycotted most of the sittings which began on September 26 on the self financing private medical college fees hike issue.