Sprinklr data row
Sprinklr data row
In My View

Sprinklr HC interim order - the blind men and the elephant

P.C. Punnen

P.C. Punnen

Kerala High Court has intervened in the raging row over health data being handled by a private firm Sprinklr and in its interim order on Friday clarified that security was vital. The interim order was on petitions filed by a bunch of individuals, including Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennitala and BJP Kerala president K Surendran.

The court’s intervention, without issuing a stay, has fortified the State Government claim on no wrong being done, but the ruling on data has made both Chennithala and Surendran, like Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, claim victory. The court, going by the Supreme Court ruling in the Puttuswamy case, literally refused to accept the Government arguments in toto, and said it did not have trust in the Government statement.

The court will pronounce its final order after three weeks. The interim order has come in for interpretations galore, some of which are even funny. One group has interpreted it as a victory for the State Government as there has been no stay. Another says it is a win for Congress whereas BJP too claims victory. But I think that when none can claim a convincing victory, Chennithala has a case in point. Even when Pinarayi claims that the interim order is a defeat for Chennithala, there is stuff in the latter’s claim that the defeat is for the Government. This will continue till the court gives its final order.

I would think it's a small blow to Pinarayi. Because the court has said it considers the situation that Kerala faces doesn't merit a cancellation of the agreement reached with Sprinklr company. What is unsaid is that, that's why the court has decided to give its final juđgment three weeks later. There was one argument put forth by Chennitala to cancel the agreement and to order payment of damages by Pinarayi and his blue eyed IAS officer holding IT charge. Even when those were rejected by the court, which also set certain stringent conditions. No way can the interim order be judged as a victory, a handsome one, for the government or for the Sprinklr group or even the Opposition parties. This alone should put the government in trouble.

No matter what the spin doctors of the CPM or that of the Congress and the BJP say, this is a clear fact. Pinarayi is facing a problem of convincing his supporters, the CPM and the coalition government's supporters, or the orthodox Marxists, that he and the man who was party to signing the agreement, an IAS officer of Kerala, had no role in it. That is a serious issue. IT secretary Shivasankaran cut a sorry figure during TV interviews while defending the agreement. He even went to the CPI's office to meet its party state secretary Kanam Rajendran, something unheard of in Kerala. Partymen may go to any extent as part of a defensive strategy. The least said the better.

This issue of signing a deal with an American company would perhaps need to be further investigated. The argument that it is given jobs by a well-known institution does not hold water. That Pinarayi has said many things, including that the owner is doing this service free of cost as his aged parents are back home in Kerala, need to be taken with a pinch of salt.

True it is that the CM along with his Health Minister Shylaja Teacher has been doing a great job fighting the spread of coronavirus. They have received global recognition.

But unfortunately Pinarayi is in a piquant situation, similar to the imagery etched by TS Eliot in the starting lines of `Wasteland’ – “April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out the dead land…”

The political issue Kerala faces over this data issue is one that that has not been there before corona and during this lockdown as part of the pandemic. This will be judged seriously in the days ahead.

On the Aadhaar card issue, the stand of the Central Government has been similar to that of the Pinarayi Government. But the party had vehemently opposed the Centre on the Aadhaar issue. CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury, who the other day said the party will discuss the issue threadbare, owes the people an explanation on the stand taken over the Aadhaar issue too. The CPI too has to explain things to the people. The issue before the people is how far has the party gone in upholding its principles and values. Has Pinarayi, a politburo member of the party himself, made any deviation? Also, why was the Cabinet and the ruling Left Democratic Front kept in the dark about the deal with the US-based Sprinklr.

As if to shield some, the IAS officer has said it was his personal decision and, full marks to him. But the question remains whether he had the right to do so. As also why others were kept in the dark is a question that even the court has asked.

It would be interesting to visualise a similar situation had Pinarayi’s bête noir VS Achuthanandan been in the former’s seat. All that can be done till the final verdict is made by the High Court in another 3-4 weeks.

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The facts and opinion in this article are those of the writer

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