‘But the RSS is keen on a second term for Pinarayi so that the ground is readied for BJP’.

 

New Delhi: The stage is set for an open war, some say dummy, between the Kerala Left Front government and the Centre weeks before the Assembly elections in the state. A day after the Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan dared Central investigation agencies to meddle in the affairs of the state, the Customs department has struck. In a highly damaging move, the Customs Preventive Commisssionerate probing the gold and dollar smuggling case involving the UAE Consulate in state capital Thiruvananthapuram has informed the High Court on Friday that “Vijayan had a role in dollar smuggling.” However, the whole statement is based on evidence collected last December and hence it has raised many an eyebrow regarding the timing of the revelation. The submission in the court also raises questions on the real motives of the central investigation agency. While the state BJP quite naturally has demanded Vijayan’s resignation, the Congress was a bit circumspect in its reactions. The party sees an “adjustment game” between Pinarayi and Prime Minister Modi as the BJP uses the case as a smokescreen to facilitate the return of CPM to power.

Commissioner of Customs Sumit Kumar in a statement informed the court that Swapna Suresh, one of the prime accused in the case, has stated that smuggling of foreign currency was done at the instance of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Assembly Speaker P. Sreeramakrishnan with the help of the previous Consulate General of the UAE Consulate. The statement says: “Her (Swapna Suresh) close connection with the Chief Minister and his Principal Secretary and a personal staff [no name given] was also revealed by her. She has also stated with clarity about smuggling of foreign currency at the instance of the Chief Minister and the Speaker with the help of the Consulate. She has also clearly stated about the improper and illegal activities of three Ministers of the state Cabinet [again no names given] and Speaker. She has further stated about the involvement and the kickback received by high profile persons from various deals.”  It is said that Swapna mediated the talks between the Chief Minister and the Consulate General as Vijayan “does not speak Arabic” and Swapna does. [Incidentally there is no mention in the Customs statement that why the two could not have conversed in English!].

According to Customs, Swapna has alleged that the CM and ministers got crores of money [Incidentally, no mention of the currency in which transactions were made] as commission in the deal. The statement adds that the Customs Department has also collected evidence based on Swapna’s statement. The customs Commissioner further stated that the role of former Principal Secretary M. Sivasankar in acting as a link between high profile politicians of Kerala and UAE Consulate officials and in coordinating the illegal financial dealings under the cover of various activities and projects of the government was also revealed by Swapna. The confidential statement of Swapna under section 164 of CrPC exposes highly illegal (Sic), improper and immoral activities by those persons who are occupying high offices in the state, the Commissioner said. However, the statement is silent on the Customs’ plan of action on the basis of such “damaging evidence” against a Chief Minister of a state seeking re-election on the basis of his government’s performance in the past five years. There lies in a story!

On Thursday, following the issuance of a summons by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to top executives of the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB) in connection with violation of Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), CM Pinarayi Vijayan had complained to the Election Commission against “harassment” by central government investigation agencies in violation of model code of conduct. He did not stop there. In a televised presser from party headquarters AKG Centre, Thiruvananthapuram, Pinarayi had hit out against the agencies without naming the Prime Minister or his government. “The central agencies would have seen people who surrender before them. They would have seen Congress leaders who can be cowed down. But that will not work here. This is Kerala. People would not remain silent when BJP and Congress come together to destroy the state,” Vijayan thundered. He said the Left government would not surrender before anyone who “raises baseless allegations”.

Earlier in the day, his Finance Minister Thomas Isaac had warned that “this move (ED summons) by the BJP and the ED could be the turning point in this election.” He saw the ED action as a move to hinder development in the state. ‘Development’ is the key word, and Pinarayi the provider of such development, on which the Left Front is banking on in this election. Congress is caught in a dilemma as to how to counter this, since the party would be automatically branded “anti-development” and “anti-Kerala”. Does this sound familiar? But that is the fact.

The central investigation agencies, many of them camping in the state for the past several months, have been blowing hot and cold on and off. But they have failed to bring forth concrete evidence to pin point either government functionaries or politicians belonging to the ruling dispensation.

They kept the Principal Secretary M. Sivasankar in custody for over 90 days, at the end of which he was let off saying there was no evidence against him. Even Pinarayi Vijayan, at whose behest some of the agencies came to the state, started questioning their intentions the moment some of his political aides and comrades in arms came under scrutiny.

Till that time, he had been claiming that the investigations into the gold smuggling case had been progressing “in the right direction”. The state BJP leadership has been predicting “imminent imprisonment of Pinarayi and a host of ministers” for months. Nothing happened. Even the much publicised SNC-Lavalin hydroelectric case in which the CBI has challenged the acquittal of Pinarayi is being postponed time and again. So far, the Supreme Court has adjourned the case 26 times since the CBI has failed to provide relevant documents.

While the Opposition Congress sees an understanding between the ruling BJP and CPM to go slow on the matter, Pinarayi on his part has kept a steadied silence when it comes to criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, unlike many of his comrades in the party including general secretary Sitaram Yechury. Grapevine has it that the RSS is keen on a second term for Pinarayi so that the ground can be readied for BJP, a la West Bengal and Tripura. It looks like the plan is on the right track.

FOOTNOTE: CPM to field Cultural Minister A.K. Balan’s wife from his constituency Tarur in Palakkad district and acting state secretary A Vijayaraghavan’s wife from Irinjalakkuda in Thrissur district. Both ladies have proven track records in their respective fields, no doubt. But many wonder whether there is a lack of cadre in the revolutionary party.