One is Pinarayi Vijayan’s former Principal Secretary, the other one is Kodiyeri Balakrishnan’s son.

 

New Delhi: The ruling coalition in Kerala, the Left Democratic Front, is bracing for a long political haul following the arrest of an IAS officer, former Principal Secretary to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, and detention of the son of CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. While the suspended IAS officer, M. Sivasankar, has been arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in connection with the case of alleged money laundering, the ED has booked Bineesh Kodiyeri for alleged financial transactions he had with a suspect arrested by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) for peddling drugs in Bengaluru. Both arrests came in a span of two days. The 57-year-old all-powerful bureaucrat in the CPM-led government in the state was arrested on Wednesday after ED officials questioned him for nearly seven hours. He has been in and out of the offices of various investigative agencies including the NIA for the past three months in cases relating to the smuggling of gold through diplomatic baggage to the UAE consulate in state capital Thiruvananthapuram. Bineesh was arrested on Thursday after he was questioned for three hours at the ED’s Bengaluru office. The ED had questioned Bineesh earlier on 6 October in connection with the UAE gold smuggling case too. The NCB probe had revealed that Bineesh had funded one of the key accused in the Bengaluru drug scandal to open a hotel in the city which is said to be the main centre of the racket. Both arrests are significant in the sense that it directly affects the CPM, which is hoping to retain control over the state for a record consecutive term when Kerala goes to polls in coming April-May. Kerala is the only state that remains under Left rule in the country and is one of the key southern states the BJP had vowed to capture in the near future.

Ever since the gold smuggling racket was unearthed on 5 July after Customs seized a diplomatic consignment containing 30 kg of gold sent from UAE at the Trivandrum International Airport and Sivasankaran’s name was linked to one of the main accused, Swapna Suresh, the Opposition Congress and BJP have been demanding the resignation of Chief Minister Pinarayai Vijayan. Initially though Vijayan and his party, CPM, tried to brush this case as yet another “creation of the Opposition to discredit Left rule in the state”, as events unfolded it became clear that Sivasankar was indeed party to many of the underhand dealings of Swapna Suresh who was an employee of the Consulate. Later, it has also come to light that Sivasankar had helped her to a plum post in the government-run IT sector of which he was secretary. Significantly, IT department comes directly under Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Still Vijayan put up a brave front, trying to flimsy the Opposition charges as mere smear campaigns directed at his government and questioned those who were trying to “demoralise” honest bureaucrats. He and the party even claimed that the Centre had directed NIA to probe the case following a personal request from the CM to do so. Once the NIA established Sivasankaran’s role in the case, the Chief Minister tried to distance himself from Sivasankaran saying the Principal Secretary’s actions were without his (CM’s) knowledge. However, under pressure from the Opposition, he suspended Sivasankaran from both the posts of Principal Secretary and IT Secretary. But this did not help much as the Opposition unearthed more and more cases involving Sivasankaran and Swapna Suresh; one of them being a key government scheme for building homes for the homeless—Life Mission—with financial aid from a charitable organisation, Red Crescent, in the UAE. It has come to light that money had changed hands in sanctioning of the project; once again the beneficiary being Swapna Suresh. Incidentally, Sivasankaran was also in charge of the Mission while the chief patron was Pinarayi Vijayan. The case has been taken over by the CBI with the state government moving court to stall the same.

Congress and the BJP have stepped up their campaign demanding the resignation of Vijayan. The CPM on the other hand has come up with arguments such as since Sivasankaran was suspended three months ago, the Chief Minister cannot be held responsible for his arrest. It is a fact that Sivasankaran was the de facto chief of the Chief Minister’s Office for almost four and a half years. How can his actions be then disassociated with the CMO? On Bineesh Kodiyeri, the party now says that he was never part of the CPM. But the fact is that he has been an integral part of the party set-up and has participated in all party gatherings prominently. The party’s argument that a father cannot be crucified for the misdeeds of the son is nothing but a hollow one. Bineesh could not have amassed so much wealth without using the label of his father, who, during the last Left Front government, was the Home Minister and, more importantly, also held the portfolio of tourism. That is where Bineesh had made the killing. While the Chief Minister has to answer for his failures in the act of governance, CPM will have to find some credible excuses to cover up for Bineesh. Not a very easy task given the state is scheduled to hold local elections next month. It is for the Opposition to grab the opportunity.