For the past 10 days, God’s Own Country is reeling under solar heat. Starlets, sex, blackmail and murder form the background for Callgate that has brought a government to its knees, thrown the Congress party into chaos and has the Opposition demanding Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy’s resignation.
In the spotlight are Kerala’s first couple of sleaze—Saritha S Nair and her partner, Biju Radhakishnan. On June 17, Biju was arrested from Coimbatore in connection with the murder of his wife Reshmi in 2006—reportedly Biju wanted to live with Saritha which his wife opposed. The glamour angle to the scandalous script appeared when Biju dragged the names of a TV actress Saritha and former minister and actor K B Ganesh Kumar into the muck. Earlier Ganesh’s wife accused him of having extra-marital affairs. Ganesh is not the only top politician allegedly involved: K C Joseph, Kerala’s culture minister inaugurated Saritha’s Kottayam office. Union minister of state for Civil Aviation and Energy K C Venugopal claims he never helped her, though records of late calls from Saritha to him have been found.
The Solar Scam or Callgate began in the second week of June. The Perumbavoor police arrested Saritha for allegedly duping Sajjad of `40.5 lakh by promising to set up a solar and windmill farm for him. The cops say that Saritha and Biju have duped many in the name of ‘Team Solar Renewable Energy Solutions’. Various cases are registered against them across the state. Callgate erupted when details of phone calls made by two staff members of chief minister Oommen Chandy to Saritha went public.
Causing further trouble for the CM, Biju claimed he had met the chief minister once for an hour-long discussion on Ganesh’s affair with Saritha. Chandy is yet to reveal the details. However, he said that Biju was referred to him by Congress MP M I Shanavas.
The scandal has besmirched the reputation of many UDF ministers including Ganesh Kumar’s. Biju said it was Kumar who spoiled his equation with Saritha. The minister and Saritha reportedly shared a hotel room at Coimbatore—an allegation denied by Ganesh. Another revelation popped up in the media that a TV serial actress, Shalu Menon, was also close to Biju, which she refutes.
The actress said that Biju had approached her for an advertisement in connection with the solar panel. “`20 lakh was paid to Biju for installing a solar panel at my residence and dance school,” said Shalu. She added that Saritha had approached her to learn dance at her school. But the police soon confirmed that Shalu was with Biju the day he escaped. It has also been reported that Biju had introduced Shalu as his company’s executive director to people he had taken money from.
Incidentally, Saritha used six aliases while reportedly in close relationships with many millionaires and businessmen in the state. She went by the name Mumthaz in a majority of cases.
The police said that Saritha would use a hidden camera to capture powerful people in compromising positions with her on film and then blackmail them for favours.
According to the police, the couple’s modus-operandi was simple. They used the goodwill generated by an impressive clientele to lure people. After identifying a vulnerable target, they would persuade them to invest lakhs of rupees in fictitious power projects. Interestingly, when solar panels were being set up at the Police Club and at the homes of celebrities and ministers, both Biju and Saritha were on bail in various cheating cases.
The LDF is also feeling the heat. Fourteen cases for cheating, involving `1.72 crore were registered from May 30, 2009 to April 16, 2011 when CPI(M)’s V S Achuthanandan was Chief Minister. Allegedly Saritha’s clout in power circles was such that she even used to address one of the LDF ministers as ‘Uncle’—who the ruling party alleges is none other than the then Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan.
Following continued protests by the Opposition, the Assembly is at a standstill and Kerala is waiting with bated breath for fresh and juicy revelations in the coming days.