November 22, 2020

Targeting the LDF Govt in Kerala

THE efforts to discredit and denigrate the Left Democratic Front government in Kerala have been mounting in the past few weeks.  The Congress-led UDF and the BJP have conducted agitations utilising the gold smuggling case to target Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and the LDF government. 

As the assembly elections draw closer, the Congress and the BJP have moved explicitly to widen the ambit of their attack on the government.  Some of the central agencies have also been enlisted in this nefarious game. 

At present, there are four central agencies – National Investigation Agency, Customs, Enforcement Directorate and Central Bureau of Investigation – who are investigating the gold smuggling case and using it as a springboard to extend their enquiries into various government projects and schemes.

When the gold smuggling through diplomatic baggage was discovered in July, the chief minister had promptly asked the centre to investigate the case through an appropriate central agency. This was necessary because it was a matter outside the jurisdiction of the state government and involved smuggling from abroad through diplomatic channels. The home ministry entrusted the case with the NIA, even though there was no prima facie grounds to suspect any terrorist funding, or, national security threat.  The Customs, which had initially registered the case, is continuing its probe.  The ED, which got into the act and effected the arrest of Sivasankar, former principal secretary in chief minister’s office and IT secretary, has now extended the probe to other government programmes and projects such as Kerala Fibre Optic Network (K-Fon), Kochi Smart City, Taurus project and e-mobility project. 

The CBI, in the meantime, parachuted itself into the case involving the construction of flats by the United Arab Emirates’ Red Crescent under the auspices of the Life Mission. The Red Crescent entered into a contract to build 142 flats with a private builder, as part of the project of the Life Mission to provide flats to those affected by the severe floods of 2018.  The Kerala government, or, the Life Mission are not party to this commercial contract.  Yet, on the complaint of a Congress MLA, the CBI filed a case of Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) violation and implicated the officials of the Life Mission in the FIR.  The state government, which had ordered a vigilance probe in the matter, was not even informed.  A commercial contract of this nature does not come within the purview of the FCRA which deals with foreign contributions/donations.  The Kerala High Court, on a petition filed by the Life Mission officials, gave a stay on the CBI probe for two months stating that this matter does not fall under the relevant clause of the FCRA.

The leader of the opposition, Ramesh Chennithala, and the state Congress have been repeatedly demanding probes by the CBI and other central agencies at a time when the all-India leadership of the Congress party and president, Sonia Gandhi, have publicly declared that the central agencies like the CBI, NIA and Narcotics Bureau are being misused to target the opposition.  Rahul Gandhi, in his last visit to Kerala, had made similar remarks which were disowned by Chennithala who stated that in such matters the state Congress would decide.  The coordination between the Congress and BJP leaders in the state has become obvious with the leaders of both parties coming out with similar statements on all developing issues connected with the investigations by the central agencies.

The Life Mission is engaged in providing houses to all families in Kerala who do not have a house of their own. So far two and a half lakh houses have been provided to beneficiaries in the past three years; the K-Fon project aims to take the internet broadband connection to every village and connect houses in the state.  The Smart City and the e-mobility (use of electric buses) are important development projects.  All these developmental plans are sought to be disrupted by the ED and the CBI through summoning files and harassing the officers concerned with implementing these projects. 

The attacks on the developmental plans of the LDF government have got widened with the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) on the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB).  The KIIFB has become an important vehicle through which funds are mobilised for infrastructure development in the state.  The KIIFB has raised nearly Rs 60,000 crores through loans and issuance of bonds.  It is these funds which have been deployed for the mobilisation and upgrading of government schools to world class levels with smart class rooms and computer labs. 310 schools have been built and upgraded so far in this manner. Building of roads, bridges and hospitals have been undertaken on a large-scale. The fiscal and social infrastructure development in the past four years has been striking and visible due to the funds raised by KIIFB.  The Kerala government had to resort to this method as there are stringent limits on borrowings by state governments and lack of financial support from the centre for infrastructure development. The CAG, in its final report, has a section which states that raising of funds through the issuance of bonds abroad is unconstitutional. 

During the eight-month long audit of KIIFB, all the 76 queries by the accountant general were given detailed replies and nothing irregular was found in any of the funding of the KIIFB projects.  The Kerala finance minister, Thomas Isaac, has made a startling revelation that four pages were added to the draft report in Delhi which states that the KIIFB borrowings are unconstitutional.  At no time, he asserted, was the state government consulted on this matter for its opinion. He further asserted that KIIFB is a corporate body that has the right to raise loans as per existing rules.

The Congress-BJP nexus is evident in the effort to weaponise the CAG report against the LDF government. A petition in the High Court has been filed by a leader of the RSS outfit, the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, which wants the court to declare the bonds issued abroad as unlawful and the funds so raised by KIIFB frozen.  The lawyer representing the SJM leader is a general secretary of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee, Mathew Kuzhalnadan.  The Congress and the BJP have no qualms in ganging up to disrupt the pro-people programmes and developmental efforts of the LDF government.

The CPI(M) and the LDF in Kerala have resolved to fight back against these conspiracies and expose them before the people.  On November 16, 25 lakh people participated in protest actions across the state, in which the efforts of the central agencies to disrupt the pro-people development programmes were condemned. 

As Kerala gears up for elections to the local bodies – the three-tier panchayats, municipalities and corporations – the political mobilisation that is in full swing in favour of the LDF will be a fitting rebuff to these opportunist and disruptive alignments. 

(November 18, 2020)