As Kerala polls draw near, top CPM leaders in limelight for wrong reasons

BJP Yuvamorcha protest demanding the resignation of higher education minister KT Jaleel.
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The gold smuggling case has cast a shadow on the Pinarayi Vijayan government.

BJP Yuvamorcha protest demanding the resignation of higher education minister KT Jaleel.
BJP Yuvamorcha protest demanding the resignation of higher education minister KT Jaleel.

With just eight months left for Kerala assembly elections, the ruling CPI(M) finds itself in a tricky situation after the interrogation of party secretary’s son Bineesh Kodiyeri in Bengaluru drug seizure case and higher education minister K T Jaleel in gold smuggling case.

The state witnessed widespread protests on Saturday as the opposition parties stepped up pressure for Jaleel’s resignation. Many leaders including BJP state spokesman B Gopalakrishnan were injured in a baton-charge by the state police.

Jaleel was grilled by the enforcement directorate (ED) for more than three hours on Friday for allegedly accepting gifts and holy books–which weighed more than 4000 kg– in March from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) consulate in the state capital.

This came to light when the customs was probing the gold smuggling case in which 30 kg yellow metal was smuggled to the country through a consignment addressed to the UAE consulate on July 5. Amid loud calls for his resignation, the party came to the rescue of the beleaguered minister and said its state and central leadership have made it clear that “mere questioning by a central agency did not warrant his resignation.”

Considered to be close to chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, Jaleel is the party’s minority mascot, hailing from the Muslim -majority Malappuram district. Jaleel had earlier been in trouble over alleged mark donation to a failed student and also over nepotism charges, but the party stood behind him.

Jaleel (53), a good orator, started his political career with the banned Islamic Students Movement of India (SIMI) and later moved to the Muslim Youth League, the youth outfit of the Muslim League. Later, he fell out with his mentor P K Kunhalikutty, former minister, and contested against him as an independent candidate and won with the support of the LDF (Left democratic front).

Groomed well by the CPI(M), he soon became a darling of the party and was instrumental in attracting many disgruntled Muslim leaders to the CPI(M) fold. Many political observers feel it is difficult for the party to defend him now.

The ED said it found some of Jaleel’s statements to be “quite contradictory” and he will be summoned again. “The party will have to really toil to defend the minister in the present case,” said senior journalist and political observer John Mary.

Many ministers have defended Jaleel strongly. “What is so big about it? Earlier also many ministers were questioned. The opposition is making a mountain out of a molehill,” said state tourism minister Kadakampally Surendran. Left Democratic Front convenor V S Vijayaraghavan also defended him.

But the Congress and the BJP sought his immediate resignation. “It seems the CM dreads to touch the minister. I think he is waiting for central agencies to arrest him to drop him from the cabinet. It is shameful that he’s defending a minister who is facing smuggling charges,” said opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is yet to react.

However, Jaleel’s cabinet colleague AK Balan dismissed the campaign against him as a political ploy.

“In many cases, including that of Chidambaram, Congress said the ED was used to target political opponents. We suspect the same in Jaleel’s case also. In Kerala, the Congress is reduced to a B team of the BJP. The party’s central leadership will have to explain this new-found camaraderie,” said culture minister A K Balan on Sunday adding the government was least bothered about the central agency’s move.

Jaleel landed in trouble after phone call records of Swapna Suresh, main accused in the gold smuggling case, were leaked to the media. His phone number figured prominently in the list. Soon after the list surfaced, the minister held a press conference in Malappuram and said he called Suresh as a consular employee in connection with Ramadan kits offered by the UAE consulate. But this clarification invited more trouble as he is not supposed to accept any funds or freebies without the consent of the Ministry of External Affairs, experts said.

To add to the party’s woes, the ED grilled state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishanan’s son Bineesh Kodiyeri three days ago in connection with Bengaluru psychedelic drug case. Key accused Anoop Mohammad had taken the name of Kodiyeri during grilling and claimed he was his “business partner.”

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