CPM led Left Democratic Front government, which is going to seek re-election in April next year, was hoping for an easy contest, given its track record in containing Coronavirus spread.
The Pinarayi Vijayan led government, which sworn to power in May 2016 has not faced much anti-incumbency in the last few years given the satisfactory performance and weakening Congress-led United Democratic Front opposition. Whatever opposition came to the government was from BJP, which is still a very small player in the state.
But, the gold smuggling scandal, getting controversial with every passing day, has led to widespread protest against the LDF government. People across the state came to streets and demanded the resignation of CM Vijayan and alleged his involvement in the case.
The case has been taken up by National Investigation Agency (NIA), which filed FIR against accused under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA “as the case pertains to smuggling of large quantity of gold into India… and it amounts to a terrorist act”.
Among the four people- Sarith Kumar, Swapna Suresh, Fazil Fareed, Sandeep Nair- against whom FIR is registered, the involvement of lady named Swapna Suresh is most controversial and has led to mud-slinging on CM.
Suresh, a former employee at UAE consulate general in Thiruvananthapuram, is a prime suspect as she forged the consulate documents to enjoy diplomatic immunity for the gold smuggled from Gulf.
Suresh, a resident of Dubai, works as contract staff for Kerala government’s flagship Space Park project. Her pictures with Chief Minister and M Sivasankar, Principal Secretary to CM are viral on social media. M Sivasankar, a 1995 batch IAS officer is a powerful executive in ruling dispensation of Kerala.
Suresh joined as HR executive with Air India SATS, an airport service firm in the state capital, 2013. However, she was sacked in 2016 for forging signatures and conspiring against a senior executive of the firm, and a criminal case was registered against her. But she escaped from probe due to her political connections.
She joined UAE consulate general in 2016 given her fluency in Arabic. But, she was fired in 2019 from consulate general office due to criminal cases against her. Later she landed a job with Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Limited (KSITIL) as business development manager. M Sivashankar, the powerful executive in Vijayan government was chairman of KSITIL back then and it was he who suggested Suresh’s name to PricewaterhouseCoopers for the post of manager at KSITIL.
Now CM has fired Sivasankar. “There are no legal allegations against Sivasankar. But, in the public domain, there are a number of remarks against him in connection with a woman. Therefore, it’s not right that such a person continues to sit in the chief minister’s office… the state government is not burdened to protect any culprit,” the chief minister said during his press briefing.
The gold smuggling racket and the allegations of a nexus between Sivasankar and former UAE Consulate employees Sarith and Swapna Suresh have thus kicked a political storm in Kerala. Facing the storm is Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan. Sivasankar was a part of Vijayan’s office right from his initial days as the Kerala CM.
The matter becomes particularly sensitive because a question of diplomatic cargo is involved and the allegations of involvement being levelled go right up to a senior IAS officer who was serving in the Chief Minister’s Office.
Whatever gains LDF has made through skilful handling of Corona crisis, is set to lose due to this scandal, which is of the scale of the threat to national security and economic stability. The incumbent government is set to face assembly election is less than a year and this scandal is going to cost CPM heavily.