Kerala gold smuggling case: State government braces for a season of protests

O Rajagopal, the only BJP MLA in the Kerala Assembly, leads a relay sit in protest demanding the resignation of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan at Mararji Bhavan in Thiruvananthapuram.

O Rajagopal, the only BJP MLA in the Kerala Assembly, leads a relay sit in protest demanding the resignation of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan at Mararji Bhavan in Thiruvananthapuram.   | Photo Credit: S Mahinsha

The State government on Saturday appeared braced for a season of protests demanding the resignation of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan over the alleged association of his former Principal Secretary M. Sivasankar with the main suspects in the high-profile case relating to the smuggling of gold in diplomatic cargo addressed to the UAE consulate here.

The Congress and the BJP have claimed separately that the parallel investigation by the Customs Department and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) into the international racket seemed to edge closer to the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) each passing day.

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The agencies had questioned Mr. Sivasankar for several hours at a stretch. They had inspected his apartment adjacent to the one rented briefly by the accused in the run-up to the crime.

The Customs also questioned a chartered accountant, whose clients include Swapna Suresh, the second accused in the case, and several top bureaucrats, allegedly including Mr. Sivasankar. Both parties have moved to cash in on the speculation surrounding the progress and outcome of the smuggling case, which is likely to have national security ramifications.

O. Rajagopal, the sole BJP legislator in the Kerala Assembly, has set the ball rolling. He staged a sit-in at the party headquarters here to press for Mr. Vijayan’s resignation.

BJP State president K. Surendran inaugurated the protest via video link from Kozhikode. Other BJP leaders would continue the protest in relays in the run-up to the local body elections. The party is live streaming the sit-ins via social media.

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Mr. Surendran said three Central agencies had questioned Mr. Sivasankar, who he accused of having covered up for Ms. Suresh. The State government itself had, as an afterthought, faulted Mr. Sivasankar for having employed her in the Space Project.

At the same time, she was a permanent employee at a foreign consulate. The State police have opened a criminal investigation against Ms. Suresh on the charge of having faked her academic credentials to bag the top post.

The police had named a consultancy that hired Ms. Suresh as a respondent in the case. Mr. Surendran demanded that police should name Mr. Sivasankar as accused in the forgery case.

The Congress will start its next phase of agitations on Monday to give “voice to the mounting public disapproval of Mr. Vijayan”.

Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala will inaugurate the protests by staging a sit-in at his official residence in the Cantonment House here.

Also Read | NIA begins questioning of Sivasankar in Kochi

United Democratic Front (UDF) MPs, MLAs and elected members of local bodies will organise protests across 22,000 Municipal and panchayat wards across the State on August 10.

Mr. Chennithala had alleged that gold smugglers, corrupt bureaucrats, anti-national elements, black-listed global consultancies and shady big data analytics firms had a free run of the CMO.

Mr. Vijayan had outsourced governance to private consultancies, which gave short shrift to rules of business and procurement regulations, he alleged.

He said Speaker P. Sreeramakrishnan had “lowered the esteem” of the House by “incautiously” attending a private function sponsored by Ms. Suresh. The UDF had given the notice to allow a resolution seeking his removal from the chair. Minister for Higher Education K. T. Jaleel had “accepted gifts” from the UAE Consulate without the approval of the Central government, he said.

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It had sought permission to move a no-confidence motion against the government. However, the ruling front had shied away from the debate and called off the convening of the Assembly on July 27.

Mr. Chennithala said the Opposition was thus constrained to approach the people directly to highlight the government’s failures and corruption.

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Printable version | Aug 15, 2020 11:28:19 PM |

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