Kerala Govt Vs National Agencies: CPI(M)’s Proxy War With BJP
The Marxist party and the state police have questioned the Customs and ED for targeting CM Pinarayi Vijayan.
For the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the 2021 Assembly election is not just about winning a second term, it is about pushing back what the party calls “political vendetta”. In Kerala, three central government agencies – the National Investigation Agency (NIA), Enforcement Directorate (ED) and Customs – have so far been probing a high-profile gold smuggling case with alleged links to party leaders.
According to CPI(M) leaders the probes by these agencies have been extended to the Chief Minister’s Office and other ministers and leaders of party because the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government at the Centre wants to “hunt down” state governments which oppose its policies including the Citizenship Amendment Act and farm laws.
On 7 March, while campaigning in Kerala, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had asked seven questions to Chief Minister of Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan including, “Was an accused in the gold smuggling case working in your office?”
The CM responded asking a series of questions of his own including, “Is a known Sangh Parivar member one of the main conspirators in a case of gold smuggled via diplomatic baggage?”. CM Vijayan was hinting at Sandeep Nair, one of the prime accused in the case, who allegedly had links with the state unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Swapna, Gold Smuggling & the CMO
The gold smuggling case turned into a juggernaut when customs officers of Thiruvananthapuram international airport seized 30 Kg gold worth Rs 13.5 crore concealed in a ‘diplomatic consignment’ to the United Arab Emirates consulate in Kerala’s capital on 5 July 2020.
The prime accused in the case were Swapna Suresh and Sandeep Nair who were later found to have alleged links with M Shivashankar, a former principal secretary in the Kerala chief minister’s office. Suresh and Nair were employees of the UAE consulate.
The case which – because of its link to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) consulate – was first probed by the NIA on Unlawful Activities Prevent Act (UAPA) charges, is now also being probed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and Customs Department, which have unearthed an alleged money laundering angle in the case.
While Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has been largely silent on the case, CPI(M)’s state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan has had to step down from his post. The probe has also extended to the IT department of the Kerala government.
In another probe, the ED served notices to the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB) in the last week of February for allegedly accepting funds without following norms. Reportedly, Kerala’s finance minister Thomas Isaac will have to be questioned in the case.
Though the cases are ongoing, the state leadership of the CPI(M), which is part of the Left Democratic Front (LDF), says they will push back against “the involvement of national agencies” in the state’s matters.
Is the CPI(M) being hounded? Here’s what the leadership thinks.
'BJP Misusing Enforcement Agencies'
“ED and other enforcement agencies are being used by the BJP-ruled Centre to topple governments run by opposition parties. In the gold smuggling case, this tactic is being tried in Kerala,” MB Rajesh, former MP and senior CPI(M) leader, told The Quint.
NIA’s first chargesheet in the case, filed in January 2021, does not name anyone linked to the Chief Minister’s Office, Rajesh pointed out, asking, “Then why are the ED and Customs after the CMO?”.
In early March, ED had approached the Economic Offences Court in Ernakulam requesting for access to a confession of Swapna Suresh, where she had allegedly explained the Kerala CMO’s involvement in the case.
Shortly after, in what seems to be a result of the ruling CPI(M)’s influence among Kerala police officers’ association, Crime Branch officers of the state have come out against “coercive tactics of the ED”.
Speaking to The Quint, a female police officer who claims to have been present during the ED’s interrogation of Suresh said, “The statement of Swapna was not given willingly. The ED officers who spoke to her asked her to name the Chief Minister (Vijayan) and that is why she did so”.
Two other officers of the state’s crime branch too have supported this claim.
“Misuse of national agencies under the BJP government has reached alarming levels. This government is responsible for destroying the stature of national agencies.”MB Rajesh, CPI(M) leader
Rajesh added that when the case came to light it was CM Vijayan who had written to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking for an NIA probe. However, the trust which the CMO showed to the PMO was misplaced, the CPI(M) leader alleged.
Congress Defends Probe on CMO
Meanwhile, even though the ED and Customs probes in the case did extend to the leader of Opposition, Indian National Congress’ Ramesh Chennithala’s link to the UAE consulate, the Congress leadership in the state has said that the national investigative agencies have the right to probe corruption allegations.
“If the CMO does not have anything to hide, then why is the CPI(M) so worried about central agencies tarnishing the CM’s image?” a Congress leader of the state who did not want to comment on allegations of his party men’s involvement in the case, said.
However, the Congress is questioning the motive behind dragging the case for so long.
“It has taken nine months for the first chargesheet to be filed. And now ED and Customs seem to be working overtime to push for BJP’s agenda against the Congress and CPI(M)“, the leader said.
Kerala goes to the polls on 6 April. The contest is between the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front, Congress-led United Democratic Front and the BJP. An ABP-C-Voter poll has predicted that the LDF will come to power in the state for a second consecutive term.
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