The Opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front in Kerala organised online protests on Monday, demanding the resignation of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, PTI reported. The UDF claimed that there was “unprecedented” corruption and nepotism in the Vijayan-led government, amidst the gold smuggling scandal.
UDF leaders, including MLAs and MPs, participated in the demonstrations and “satyagraha” using the hashtag #SpeakUpKerala, and connected via videoconferencing, Facebook Live and other platforms. The protests began at 9 am and ended at 1 pm.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala participated in the protest from his official residence in Thiruvanathapuram, and Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee President Mullapally Ramachandran from Indira Bhavan in the state capital, following coronavirus-linked protocols. Former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy took part in the demonstrations from Puthupally in Kottayam district.
All India Congress Committee General Secretary Mukul Wasnik, who inaugurated the protests from New Delhi, attacked the Left Front government in Kerala. Wasnik claimed that the state government failed to provide relief and support to the people in the midst of an “unprecedented” pandemic. He also alleged that the Vijayan-led government was using the pandemic as a “smokescreen” to carry on corrupt and nepotistic activities.
“Investigations in the gold smuggling case are pointing fingers at the CMO [Chief Minister’s Office] and a top official who was heading the CMO has been grilled by investigating officials,” Wasnik alleged. “This is a serious matter which affects national security.”
Chennithala reiterated his demand for a Central Bureau of Investigation investigation into the gold smuggling case. The inquiries being made by Chief Secretary Vishwas Mehta and the finance secretary will end up as a farce, he claimed. Currently, the National Investigation Agency is conducting a probe in the matter too.
Wasnik said the Left Democratic Front has not responded to the UDF’s demand that the state government pay Rs 10 lakh each to 350 non-residential Indians from Kerala who have died of the coronavirus.
On Monday, Vijayan admitted that the rise in the number of coronavirus cases in Kerala was due to complacency by the state government in implementing restrictive measures. Till Monday evening, the state had reported 26,867 Covid-19 cases. This included 11,484 active cases, 15,282 recoveries and 84 deaths, according to PTI.
The gold smuggling case
On July 5, gold weighing 30 kg concealed in imported plumbing material was seized by the Customs officials upon inspection of an air cargo consignment addressed to the Consular General of the United Arab Emirates in Thiruvananthapuram district. Officials valued the gold at Rs 15 crore.
The customs department arrested Sarith PS, an accused, on the same day for allegedly facilitating the smuggling of the gold in diplomatic baggage from Thiruvananthapuram to Dubai. Sarith and another suspect, Suresh, worked at the consulate-general’s office until seven months ago. Later, the state government had appointed Suresh as marketing liaison officer of the Space Park project.
Pinarayi Vijayan’s former Principal Secretary M Sivasankar was also removed after Opposition leaders questioned his alleged association with the three accused.
On July 22, the Enforcement Directorate filed a money laundering complaint in the case. The Enforcement Case Information Report, equivalent to a first information report, will enable the directorate to attach the properties of the accused.
A special NIA court on July 24 sent the three accused in the case to judicial custody till August 21.