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K.T. Jaleel — a giant killer in the dock

Illustration: J.A. Premkumar  

It’s ironic that copies of the Koran should give K.T. Jaleel, Kerala’s Minister of Higher Education and Welfare of Minorities who swears by the holy text, the biggest test of his political life. The Customs Department suspects an unholy nexus between the Minister and some officials of the Consulate of the UAE in Kerala’s capital, Thiruvananthapuram, in “fraudulently importing goods, including a recent consignment of 250 cartons of the sacred text weighing about 4.5 tonnes into the State” using the diplomatic route claiming duty exemption.

The Customs probe is just the latest in the trail of disquieting developments for Mr. Jaleel in the past fortnight, on the heels of his questioning by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in a related case of gold smuggling using the Consulate as cover. A key accused in that case had worked with the Consulate, maintained high-level connections in the government and interacted with the Minister, who is also in charge of the Wakf Department.

Following his questioning by the ED, the Minister maintained that accepting the Koran from the UAE during the month of Ramzan was part of a ‘cultural and religious’ custom. The Opposition, especially the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), has launched protests, calling for his resignation. However, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which heads the ruling coalition, threw its weight behind the Minister, reading the whole episode as one against the Koran.

Break with League

Mr. Jaleel is not a member of the CPI(M). But he has enjoyed the confidence of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan from the time he was fielded by the Left as an Independent candidate in the Kuttippuram constituency in Malappuram in 2006. It was a year after his ouster, following differences with the leadership, from the youth wing of the IUML in which he had functioned as state general secretary. He emerged as a giant killer by trouncing the League strongman, P.K. Kunhalikutty, in what used to be a League bastion until then.

A native of Tirur in Malappuram, he was drawn to the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) in the late 1980s. After severing ties with SIMI, he joined the Muslim Students Federation, the students’ wing of the IUML, while studying history at PSMO College in Tirurangadi, Malappuram. He went on to become a lecturer in the same college and his clout within the Youth League grew under the patronage of Korambayil Ahammed Haji, known for his progressive stances.

An abiding interest in history earned him a Ph.D. from the University of Kerala and his work, a rereading of the role of Variamkunnath Kunhamed Haji and Ali Musliyar in what came to be known as the Malabar Rebellion of 1921, was later published as a book, the second authored by him, with a forward by Pinarayi Vijayan. The book, which captures the contours of the agrarian uprising in the context of the anti-colonial strife, is in its seventh edition now.

When Mr. Vijayan, then State secretary of the CPI(M), took out a pre-election march along the length of Kerala in 2009, Mr. Jaleel marched alongside as the only non-party member of its core team of senior CPI(M) leaders. In the elections of 2011 and 2016, he kept the faith reposed in him by winning the Thavanur constituency as a Left-backed Independent.

It, therefore, surprised no one when he was selected to the Cabinet led by Mr. Vijayan in 2016 as Minister in charge of Local Self-governments. However, in 2018, he came under a cloud following allegations of nepotism after his kin, K.T. Adeeb, was appointed general manager in the Kerala State Minorities Development Corporation. Mr. Adeeb eventually quit the post. Mr. Jaleel put up a brave face when his name cropped up in connection with a well-networked accused in the gold scam in August this year, saying he was ready to face any inquiry. But he soon became restive in the face of adverse media coverage and as Central agencies began to call him for questioning, turned selective in talking to the media, his assertion of “truth alone will prevail” notwithstanding.

The Assembly elections are less than a year away, and the Left, viewing the developments as political, is unlikely to isolate him. But the heat, for the moment, is definitely on Mr. Jaleel.

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Printable version | Oct 20, 2020 6:08:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kt-jaleel-a-giant-killer-in-the-dock/article32650532.ece

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