July 19, 2020

Unscrupulous Politics in Kerala

THE gold smuggling case in Kerala is being used by the Congress-led UDF and the BJP to tarnish the image of the LDF government and a joint effort to destabiliSe the government headed by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.

The Congress and the UDF have demanded the resignation of the chief minister and have launched a “struggle” to achieve the same. The BJP is also conducting protests with the same demand. The UDF had announced that it will move a no-confidence motion against the government in the assembly.

Smuggling of gold into Kerala from the Gulf countries has been a regular occurrence over the years. There was a spurt in gold smuggling after the Covid pandemic, when flights resumed and there was an increase in chartered flights to the state. Around Rs 100 crore worth of gold was seized by the Customs authorities in Kerala’s three airports in the past six months. But the contraband gold sought to be smuggled in through Thiruvananthapuram airport on June 30 was significant for the method adopted and the size of the consignment – it was through diplomatic baggage and weighed 30 kilograms.

The state police is not the investigating authority nor has it the power to file cases in such matters. It falls in the jurisdiction of the Customs department which is under the centre. The state police can only have an ancillary role. That is why as soon as the ramifications of the case became known, the chief minister wrote to the prime minister asking for an effective investigation by any of the central agencies concerned, so that the whole chain of the smuggling operation from its source and the end beneficiaries can be found out and brought to book.

The centre directed the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to take up the case. The Customs had, in the meanwhile, filed a case in which four persons were accused. One of the accused is a woman, Swapna Suresh, who was working as a contract employee in a project of a public sector institution of the IT department of the government. She had earlier been an employee of the UAE Consulate and Air India SATS.

When it became known that the IT secretary and principal secretary in the chief minister’s office, Sivasankar, was known to this accused person, he was removed from both the posts. A committee headed by the chief secretary was also set-up to enquire into the circumstances in which she got the job in the institution under the IT department. The chief minister has stated that based on the result of the enquiry, further action would be taken.

However, for the Congress and UDF leadership, the purported role of the principal secretary was sufficient to demand the resignation of the chief minister. The opposition leader, Ramesh Chennithala, and the Congress leadership were getting increasingly frustrated with their inability to counter the popular approval of the way in which the LDF government has tackled the Covid pandemic. They went to absurd lengths to discredit the government’s steps to contain the infection and the precautionary measures put in place. But to no avail.

The gold smuggling case is, thus, being used to make an all-out effort to target the chief minister and the LDF government. In doing so, the Congress leadership is even ignoring the fact that one of the accused, Sandeep Nair, has links with the BJP. It is more intent on seeking to harness the Modi government in its fight against the LDF government. Not satisfied with the induction of the NIA as the investigating agency, it is demanding that the CBI and RAW be brought into the case. The Congress knows very well that the BJP government is misusing the central agencies for its political purposes and hopes that they will do so in this case too.

Meanwhile, three of the four, who were originally accused have been arrested and they have been remanded to NIA custody for interrogation. The fourth person, Faisal Fareed, who was behind the consignment sent from the UAE is still abroad. The police have also arrested three other persons in connection with the case. One of whom is a businessman, Rameez, who was implicated in an earlier gold smuggling case and is reported to be a relative of an important leader of the Indian Union Muslim League.

The last four weeks have seen a spurt in the Covid infection cases in the state. This came about after the influx of people returning from abroad and from other states in India; the rise in imported cases has now been followed by a steady increase in the cases due to local transmission. It is at such a juncture that the Congress and the BJP are out in the streets protesting. In many places, scores of protestors violating physical distancing norms have broken cordons and clashed with the police. This has led to widespread public disapproval due to fears of infection mounting. What the Congress and BJP are ending up doing is to provide a smokescreen to divert attention from the real culprits and the forces behind them.

The Congress party is proving its political and ideological bankruptcy in Kerala by adopting this disruptive stance. It has no qualms whatsoever in ganging up with the BJP to target the Left. It is also a sad commentary on the state of the party as a whole as the recent events in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan show. The BJP is going all-out to destabilise Congress state governments using money power and other unscrupulous methods. But the Congress party riven by factions and power hungry leaders is facilitating the BJP’s nefarious designs.

In Kerala, this type of politics and power games will be met with a stinging rebuff from the people.

(July 15, 2020)