By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: When the going gets tough, the tough get going. That is how a CPI(M) leader characterized the embattled Pinarayi Vijayan Government’s unprecedented decision to launch a judicial inquiry against the central agencies investigating the gold smuggling and other related cases. A Cabinet meeting appointed retired High Court judge VK Mohanan as the chairman of the Commission.
The decision, construed as an all-out war against the central investigating agencies, has stunned the central agencies, which had already been pushed to the defensive after the Crime Branch(CB) registered a Case against the Enforcement Directorate (ED). An eight-member CB team will probe the case against the ED, which has been charged with forcing the prime accused in the gold smuggling case, Swapna Suresh, to give a statement against Chief Minister.
The Government, pushed against the wall by various probe agencies like the ED, the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Income Tax Department, is now awaiting the green signal from the Election Commission. The Government has to seek the permission of the EC as a model code of conduct is in force in the State, which is in the thick of an election battle. If the EC denies the nod, then the Government will explore other ways to counter the combined offensive by the central probe agencies against the State Government.
As per its terms of reference, the Commission will inquire whether the central agencies probing various cases have gone beyond their mandate. The Commission will also consider an investigation into the cases relating to the voice clip purportedly of gold smuggling case accused Swapna Suresh, a letter by Sarith, another accused in the case, and three other cases. The voice clip had revealed that Swapna had been forced by the ED to depose against the Chief Minister in the case. The Commission will also examine whether anyone had forced Swapna to implicate the CM in the case, who had exerted pressure on her, what was their motive and whether there was any conspiracy. The Commission will file its report to the State Government, recommending steps to be taken against the agencies in case there was a conspiracy.
It may be mentioned that, apart from the gold smuggling and reverse hawala cases being looked into by the central agencies, the IT Department had also carried out a raid at the headquarters of the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB), The IT sleuths were looking for details of the financial transactions made with the contractors who had been awarded various works funded by the KIIFB. The IT raid had incurred the wrath of the State Government. And Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and other CPI(M) leaders have termed the raid as a violation of the federal principles. A furious Pinarayi said the IT department could do nothing to the KIIFB. Such acts on the part of the central agencies were part of a nexus between the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“Just because you have the power, you are not supposed to barge into any place. The officials who conducted the inspection at KIIFB did not do so on their individual whims. The inspection was clearly on the orders given by a few top officials and the Union Government. If they think they can humiliate us by carrying out an inspection of the KIIFB, it is the Union Government which will end up with egg on its face. Such attempts to halt the State’s development are simply not acceptable,” thundered the Chief Minister. The people, he said, would give a befitting reply in the election. KIIFB, he added, was not a makeshift institution. It is a product moulded by the State Assembly with clearance from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), he pointed out.
The Opposition has, expectedly, dubbed the decision to launch a judicial probe as a mere publicity stunt. Chennithala said such absurd acts would not fool the people. In his reaction, BJP leader and Union Minister V Muraleedharan said the decision, the ‘joke of the century’, was to save face before the elections. Legal experts are divided over the move. A section of legal luminaries is of the view that a judicial inquiry cannot be launched under the Commission of Inquiry Act. Those who do not agree with the view say that it is very much possible. They say that no central investigating agency can interfere in a state without the prior permission of the State Government. The Chief Minister is also on record that a judicial probe can be held and that the Government had sought legal advice before taking the decision.
There is, of course, a clear political motive, too, to the decision. By launching a judicial inquiry, the Government was sending an unambiguous message to its detractors, particularly the Congress : that the LDF Government alone can take on the unprecedented acts of vengeance being resorted to by the BJP-led Government at the Centre. The move will also help the Government to dismiss the allegations about there being a ‘deal’ between the CPI(M) and the BJP in the State – a charge made by RSS ideologue R Balashankar, who was denied a ticket to contest the Assembly election from the Chengannur constituency.
In its latest move, the Enforcement Directorate has claimed, through a document submitted in the Kerala High Court , that Swapna Suresh had deposed Speaker P. Sreeramakrishnan used to call her to a flat at Pettah in Thiruvananthapuram with dirty intentions. Swapna was quoted as having said that the Speaker had plans to set up a branch of the Oman-based Middle East College in Sharjah. According to Swapna, the Speaker was trying to get close to her as he required the help of consul-general for his personal affairs in the UAE. As she did not agree to his ‘personal interests’, the role offered to her in the Middle East College was cancelled.
The Speaker has, however, termed the statements ‘factually wrong and absurd.” The ED is coming out with all sorts of stories with an eye on the impending election. The people of Kerala are too intelligent to be taken in by such distorted and fancy stories being churned out by the central investigating agency, he opined. The Chief Minister too is of the considered view that the central agencies were doing all this to discredit the LDF Government and stall the development of the State.
In conclusion, it must be said that the move to launch a judicial inquiry was a bold decision in the face of a combined and pre-planned onslaught by the central investigating agencies to discredit the state government. The message is loud and clear: the State Government will not be, and cannot be, intimidated by such acts of provocation. The large turnout at the rallies being addressed by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan prove, if proof were needed, that the people at large are supportive of the Government’s moves to counter the central probe agencies acting on the order s of their political masters. More provocations could be expected in the coming days. But the more these agencies try to intimidate the LDF Government, the greater will be the support to the besieged Government, CPI(M) and CPI leaders point out. There is no stopping the LDF from creating history by winning the popular mandate for a consecutive second term in office, they aver. (IPA Service)