Over 23% of voters are from the minority community and every party needs that vote.

 

New Delhi: Even as coronavirus cases surge in Kerala with figures crossing well over 5,000 a day, there is no let-up in Opposition-led protests across the state demanding the resignation of a minister who had allegedly facilitated smuggling gold into the state to fund terrorist activities under the cover of import of Quran. As the state is set to go for Assembly election coming April, it is all too clear that the holy book of the Muslims will be a deciding factor in electioneering. Over 23% of the voters in Kerala belong to the minority community and every political party needs that vote to win any election. At the centre of the controversy is K.T. Jaleel, Minister for Higher Education, Welfare of Minorities, Wakf and Hajj in the Left Democratic Front government led by tough-talking Marxist Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. While the Opposition is demanding the resignation of the minister for his connections with the suspected kingpin of the gold smuggling racket Swapna Suresh, a former executive secretary at the UAE consulate who is under custody, the government, and CPM in particular, is solidly backing Jaleel, even going to the extent of fanning communal passions in the name of upholding secularism.

The case against Jaleel gathers importance in the sense that three major central organisations–Customs, Enforcement Directorate and the National Investigation Agency—are investigating the case involving the Consulate office of the UAE, with which the country has a very cordial relationship, in state capital Thiruvananthapuram. Last week, the ED had summoned Jaleel twice to find out whether he had indeed violated the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010, by accepting Ramzan kits and copies of Quran from the UAE Consulate. He had admitted to coordinating with Swapna Suresh and the UAE Consulate General for these transactions. Right from the beginning when the involvement of his office came to the fore, Jaleel was found lacking definite answers as to who took decisions with whose permission in accepting and distributing the so-called consignment of the holy book. There is still no clear answer as to where all the consignments were delivered and why government vehicles were used to transport these consignments without valid papers.

As everything was shrouded in mystery, and with the Chief Minister shooting down every question regarding the involvement of the minister as just “wild allegations”, public perception over the minister’s role in the shoddy affair became increasingly suspect and hence more questions were raised. Jaleel’s attempt to keep under wraps his visits to the ED office in Kochi only helped add to these doubts; he even tried to be gallant about his nocturnal visits to the ED office, tweeting how he had “fooled the media”, much to the amusement of the public. A senior minister even tried to justify the minister’s clandestine visits, saying the ED had summoned Jaleel not as a minister, but as an individual and hence he need not answer the press about the details of the meeting. All these only helped add to the farce being enacted by a government crying hoarse about the Opposition agenda to “destabilise” a democratically elected government. The minister on his part had always put on a martyr’s posture, saying openly that “if distributing Quran is a crime in this country, then let the authorities hang me.” He was obviously playing to his Muslim gallery and hoping to hit out against the BJP, the ruling party at the Centre, which is at the forefront of the agitation against him in the state. However, this week when the NIA summoned Jaleel for questioning, ruling clique refers to it as chit-chat, it became more evident that things are getting really hot for the minister and the ruling government. It was then that the CPM and the Chief Minister decided to play the Quran card.

Addressing the media on Thursday, even as Jaleel was being questioned by the NIA, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan repeated his support for Jaleel in unequivocal terms. “He (Jaleel) accepted the Quran as a minister who handles the minorities department. How can people complain against accepting the Quran? We can understand Congress and BJP complaining, but on what basis IUML and its leaders joining hands on the Quran issue and attacking Jaleel? He has not committed any crime.” By Friday, CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Blakrishnan had gone one step ahead. Writing in party mouthpiece Deshabhimani, he declared that the whole Opposition agitation against Jaleel is an “insult to Quran”. Protests are nothing, but an insult to Quran; Jaleel only followed Ramzan-related customs, the party secretary wrote. “Communists treat all religious texts equally whether it is Quran, Bhagwad Gita or the Bible. LDF is opposing the protests and they are insulting the Quran. K.T. Jaleel need not resign as he has not committed any crime,” Kodiyeri wrote. Incidentally, Kodiyeri’s son is also one of the prime suspects in the very same gold smuggling case and also the principal secretary to the Chief Minister who is now under suspension. As to his son, Kodiyeri had on record that the authorities could “hang him (son)” if found guilty. For a moment, Kodiyeri, a born communist, seems to have forgotten that he represents the only political party in the country to oppose capital punishment!

But as long as Kodiyeri Balakrishnan is not advocating death by hanging for all those who demand the resignation of Jaleel, people of Kerala can breathe easily; at least till the next Assembly election.