By P Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The roles have been reversed in a sudden twist in Kerala’s political tale. The United Democratic Front (UDF) which has been launching an aggressive campaign against the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) Government’s ‘corruption’, has now become the defender in the wake of the arrest of former PWD Minister in the Oommen Chandy Government VK Ibrahim Kunju in the infamous Palarivattom flyover corruption case.
Kunju, a sitting MLA from Kalamassery, belongs to the Indian Union Muslim League(IUML), the second most important constituent of the UDF. He is the second IUML MLA to be arrested in two weeks. The first one to be jailed is Manjeswaram MLA, MC Kamaruddin on financial fraud charges.
With the arrest of Kunju, the Congress-led UDF has been pushed on the defensive. The front foot player has been pushed on to the backfoot thanks to a torrid spell of bowling on a hostile political pitch from the LDF, to borrow a cricketing expression.
The most significant fallout of the Kunju episode will be that it will deprive the UDF of a powerful propaganda plank against the LDF Government on the issue of corruption. The UDF’s high hopes of cashing in on the corruption charges against the Pinarayi Government have vanished into thin air with two of its own leaders coming under the corruption cloud.
Expectedly, the UDF has accused the LDF of indulging in vendetta politics. The arrests have been made in retaliation of the aggressive UDF campaign against the Government over the gold smuggling case, the Life mission scam and the arrest of Bineesh Kodiyeri, son of Kodiyeri Balakrishnan who has stepped down from the post of CPI-M state secretary. That is the contention of UDF leaders.
The UDF says it is all part of a con spiracy to divert attention from the discomfiture of the Government on account of the slew of corruption charges against it. They assert the attempt won’t succeed, and that the campaign against the Government would continue with redoubled vigour. But the fact remains that the arrests have considerably weakened the UDF’s anti-corruption drive. The rich dividends the Front was expecting to reap from the local bodies election may not materialize to the desired extent.
The UDF suspects that the conspiracy of the LDF is clear from the statement made by LDF convener A Vijayaraghavan that more UDF leaders are likely to be arrested. IUML MLA KM Shaji and Congress MLA PT Thomas are already under the scanner. This is a shameful balancing act to shield the Government from serious charges, UDF leaders point out.
Incidentally, the timing of the arrest is also significant. Legal experts say there is nothing illegal about the arrest. But it is crystal clear that it is a political move to intimidate the UDF, which has been targeting the Government with several corruption charges.
The episode also shows the determination of the LDF to stop being at the receiving end and give as good as it gets. Obviously, the LDF has decided that attack is the best defence. And the best way to corner the UDF is to expose the corruption charges against the front’s leaders.
The arrest of Kunju was made under dramatic circumstances. The Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) arrested Kunju from a hospital where he had been admitted for treatment. He has been remanded to 14-day judicial custody but was allowed to continue in hospital following doctors’ advice. The VACB will seek his custody for detailed interrogation after evaluating his health condition.
Ibrahim Kunju was the PWD Minister when the construction of the Palarivattom flyover started in September 2014. The flyover was opened for traffic in October 2016. But it was closed in May 2019 after cracks were detected.
What proved crucial against Kunju was the statement made by fourth accused in the case, TS Sooraj, former PWD Principal Secretary. Sooraj’s statement said it was on the directive and order of the then PWD Minister Kunju that he sanctioned Rs 8.5 crore as mobilization fund for the contractor of the flyover project. VACB official say the fund transacted by Kunju was the kickback amount he received in the Palarivattom flyover deal. IUML leaders defend Kunju on the ground that the flyover failure was due to faulty technology and that the Minister had nothing to do with it. (IPA Service)