Vijayan govt under scanner over top cops’ involvement with self-styled antiques dealer.

 

New Delhi: After aggressively pursuing who is and who is not a “narcotics jihadi” for over two weeks and in the process widening the chasm between Christians and Muslims in the state, Kerala is now under the spell of an “antique dealer” who has taken the state police, politicians and celluloid superstars for a spin. And the search is on for who is and who is not associated with Monson Mavunkal, the 50-something antique dealer, who claims to be in possession of, believe it or not, two of Judas’ 30 silver coins, the staff of Moses and Tipu Sultan’s throne to boot.

If the Pala bishop’s narcotics-laced sermon had led to a political controversy on the lines of religious identity threatening the state’s social fabric, the “antique dealer”, though no one has so far raised his religious identity, has triggered a war of words between the ruling CPM and the opposition Congress.

It was Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan who blunted the bishop’s accusation that Muslim youths are using drugs to entice Christian girls into marriage and jihadism by reeling out statistics that showed that narcotic dealership is not a monopoly of one religious community. Though Vijayan may have succeeded in silencing the bishop and his ardent supporters, the Sangh Parivar, for the time being, questions are being raised about the method he chose to prove that “narcotics business is not on the basis of religion”.

Only time will prove that by identifying alleged criminals on the basis of their religion, even if for a good cause as was the case in this particular incident, Vijayan had set a dangerous precedent which can be used by religious fundamentalist rulers of north Indian states more lethally. But once Vijayan settled the bishop issue, his government has come under the scanner over the involvement of many top-rung police officers with the wheeling dealing of the self-styled antiques dealer and the CPM’s alleged role in dragging the current Pradesh Congress Committee president K. Sudhakaran into the controversy.

It is ironic that it is one of Pinarayi Vijayan’s favourite police officers, retired DGP Loknath Behera, who is at the centre of the latest controversy. Behera is currently Managing Director of Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL), a position which many consider a gift from Vijayan. In Vijayan’s previous term, it was his closest aide the then principal secretary M. Sivasankaran who got the chief minister’s office entangled in the now infamous gold smuggling case involving the UAE Consulate in the state capital Thiruvananthapuram, investigations into which are still going on.

It has now come to light that Behera, who retired as DGP in June, used to be a regular visitor at Monson’s rented residence in central Kochi. He was also responsible for arranging a special police picket at the house where the fake antiques were kept. It is said that Monson used to flaunt his photographs with Behera to “impress his customers”.

In September 2019, Monson as patron of an expatriates’ body, Pravasi Malayali Federation, took part in an international conference on cyber security, CoCoon, hosted by Kerala police in Kochi. The meeting was led by senior IPS officers including ADGP Manoj Abraham who also figures prominently in many of the photographs put out by Monson.

Behera’s term as DGP is considered by many as the lowest point in the history of Kerala police. During the last five-year term of Pinarayi Vijayan, who was also the Home Minister, Kerala had witnessed the highest number of custody deaths—this includes the murder of an innocent young man picked up by the police on mistaken identity in Varapuzha in Kochi in 2018—and encounter killings of persons said to be Naxalites. Of the nine killed in encounters, the identity of at least four is yet to be confirmed. There had been at least 20 political murders in the state under Behera’s charge. Despite all this, Pinarayi Vijayan used to defend his police chief and brush aside any demand for his removal.

After his photos with the “antique dealer” appeared, Behera refused to answer questions from newspersons. Scoffing rumours about his resignation from Kochi Metro, something which the Opposition Congress has been demanding, Behera clarified that he would be away in Odisha for four days as an expert member on the interview board for personality test for recruitment to civil service in that state from 1 to 4 October. “I will return to KMRL after that,” Behera said.

It is when the clamour for Behera’s resignation intensified that a section of the CPM came out with the allegation that Congress chief Sudhakaran, too, had been an associate of Monson. It is alleged that Sudhakaran had helped Monson “settle” certain deals in Delhi. Sudhakaran has since clarified that he had been to Monson’s house to get treatment for a skin allergy. Monson had claimed to be an MD in dermatology and is said to have superstars among his clientele.

If police officers at the level of DGP had helped Monson allegedly defraud many to the tune of crores of rupees, can the politicians be far behind? Allegations are flying thick and fast. It is said that many who are members of the Loka Kerala Sabha have close links with Monson Mavunkal. The Sabha, a Rs 10-crore annual jamboree, is supposed to thrash out the problems faced by lakhs of ordinary Malayalees working in the Gulf countries. However, it is alleged that nothing concrete has come out of these gatherings as it is not represented by those Malayalees who toil during their lifetime in the desert kingdoms. The Sabha had come under criticism in the past with the opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front even boycotting the event in January 2020, saying that it was just a forum to felicitate those who sing paeans for the CPM and Pinarayi Vijayan in particular.

It is to be seen to what extent the “Monson Affair” unfolds politically in the coming days. The big question will be how the Kerala police go about investigating a case where many of its own top men are seemingly involved. The Left Front government which holds the right to order a CBI inquiry may do so. It is the easiest way to relinquish responsibility for the doings of a Super Conman in the guise of an antique seller.