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CPM to return tainted crores

Thiruvananthapuram, July 1: For the first time, the CPM is being called a “party of thieves”.

A media expose on the Kerala CPM mouthpiece, Deshabhimani, accepting Rs 2 crore from a tainted lottery king has landed the party in its biggest financial scandal ever.

Today, the CPM state committee decided to return the money to Santeago Martin, but the party that never misses a chance to lecture others on probity knows it has slipped off the moral high horse.

The committee, after a meeting attended by general secretary Prakash Karat, said the amount, accepted in four Rs 50-lakh bonds, would be returned immediately. It hinted at a probe against Deshabhimani general manager E.P. Jayarajan.

The issue is particularly emotive because the party newspaper was launched in the ’50s with donations from die-hard supporters such as the iconic Palora Matha, who gave away her only material possession: her goat.

The launch was of a piece with the image the CPM has carefully built over the decades — that of a party of the poor and for the poor. The sight of powerful party leaders smoking bidis and sipping black tea had helped preserve that image, and even gave it a romantic hue, although the gap between perception and reality had been steadily widening.

The Congress had always shown a grudging respect for the CPM even during their bitterest brawls. Now its leaders are all over TV, taking the cue from state unit chief Ramesh Chennithala to call the Marxists a “party of thieves”.

The CPM has advised the cadre to explain the “true situation” to the people, especially in the backdrop of the flip-flop by Jayarajan, who is close to party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan.

After admitting on Thursday the money was collected in development bonds, Jayarajan claimed the next day that it was advance deposit for lottery advertisements.

The party now says it was an “indiscretion” — the bonds had slipped through among other donations — and claims no other party would have made amends by returning the money.

It’s the second time in just over a month that the Kerala unit has forced the party to give itself such a dubious pat on the back.

On May 26, the CPM had made history by suspending Kerala chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan and state secretary Vijayan from the politburo after their public feuding had spiralled out of control.

The scandals are all the more embarrassing for party boss Karat because Kerala happens to be his home state. They also come at a time the party unit in Bengal, the CPM’s other citadel, is fighting the stigma of a police firing on farmers defending their land against acquisition for industry.

The CPM’s image of a poor party, however, has long been wearing thin. The Kerala CPM is now a financial monolith that owns three TV channels, a string of hospitals, a water theme park and the like. The joke is, the party is the biggest corporate group to have emerged in Kerala at a time the state is trying to shrug off its “anti-industry” label.

The CPM had been accused of collecting funds from liquor barons for its channels. But never before had a fully owned party organ like Deshabhimani been caught directly accepting money from a tainted businessman.

The Tamil Nadu-based Martin, in his 30s, had started off as a lottery ticket seller but political patronage helped him bag agencies in the Northeast. He is believed to be close to Jayalalithaa.

The DMK government recently had his offices raided on charges of financial irregularities, and Martin is believed to be in hiding.

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