Jeemon Jacob on the case against the Kerala CM’s son Arun Kumar
NOBODY BOTHERED about Arun Kumar till recently. Unlike his revolutionary father, Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, 87, Arun remained anonymous, and safe from media scrutiny. But now this 41-year-old IT professional has become the target of a series of corruption allegations levelled by the Congress-led Opposition.
In his seven-decade-long political career, Achuthanandan kept intact his clean image. His stand against corrupt practices within the party and outside earned him a unique place in the heart of Kerala voters. His popularity was at its peak when he was the Opposition leader during 2001-06.
In the last Assembly session of a state that goes to the polls on 13 April, Congress MLA VD Satheeshan levelled three major allegations against Arun:
• That he took Rs. 7 lakh from the sandalwood mafia to hush up cases when his father was the Opposition leader.
• That he demanded Rs. 75 crore from the technocrat-turned-industrialist KPP Nambiar for sanctioning the Kannur thermal power plant during the 1996- 2001 EK Nayanar government.
• That he made several foreign trips, including to Macau, famous for its casinos.
The Opposition walked out of the Assembly when the Speaker did not allow a debate on the allegations. Arun struck back, sending legal notices demanding 1 crore compensation for defamation from the Congress-run Jaihind TV channel that carried derogatory remarks. Later, Congress spokesman MM Hassan repeated the allegations at a press meet. On 24 February, a magistrate in Thiruvananthapuram ordered a probe. Soon the unknown Arun Kumar shot into media glare.
“The Congress has stooped to this level and created a smokescreen to meet its political ends. I will fight for my dignity,” says Arun. He has won such a battle before, against Nambiar, who withdrew the allegations in 2001 when Arun sued him.
“I’ve no choice other than fighting a legal battle for my honour,” Arun says now. “If I were a politician, I could have taken refuge under the cover of a party. Unfortunately, I’m a government servant.”
This was a revelation to many. A postgraduate in computer application, Arun Kumar joined the Institute of Human Resource Development (IHRD) as assistant director, software division, on 31 January 1997. When he was recruited, not many in Kerala were aware that he was the son of VS, who was then a politburo member of the CPM. In 1999, during the Nayanar government, Arun went on deputation as managing director of Coirfed. After two years, he returned to IHRD and was promoted as joint director in 2005. During that period, he was also holding the charge of principal, College of Applied Sciences, Kattappana. His first brush with controversy came when he registered for the PHD programme in bio-informatics at Kerala University without appearing for the written test. Later, when a fuss was made, Kerala University withdrew the permission. Arun challenged the decision in the Kerala High Court, where the case is pending.
UNLIKE HIS father, Arun has sophisticated tastes. He is well educated and his classmates, all software professionals, are working in multinational companies all over the globe. He claims that his visit to Macau was purely as a tourist.
“What’s wrong if I travel abroad?” he asks. And, more pointedly, “Who levelled the allegation?” It was PK Kunhalikutty, leader of the Indian Union Muslim League. Of late, the Congress -led Opposition has realised that the anti-incumbency factor is not working as well as they imagined, and the CPM may field VS again to lead the battle. So the Congress has changed its strategy and sharpened its attack against the most popular CPM leader in the state.
But Arun cannot take shelter behind his father’s impeccable record. People may not subscribe to the view that VS took money from the sandalwood mafia or yielded to lottery king Santiago Martin. But doubts remain about his family taking undue privileges. Arun is ready to explain his part. “I’m not a power broker. I live with my father at his official residence. That doesn’t mean I’m a channel to influence the CM. It’s bullshit,” he says.