Bengal Fate Stalks Kerala CPM as Custodial Death, NRI Suicide and Rape Complaint Fuel Massive Anger
The government has managed to control some damage, but Kerala watchers warn that these incidents are symptoms of a deep malaise -- leadership crisis, corruption, turf wars and party losing the ideological war against BJP.
Midway through its term, the CPM government has been hurtling from one controversy to another in Kerala, its last fortress after the loss of West Bengal and Tripura.
Barely managing to douse the public ire over unprecedented floods that ravaged the state last year, the shoddy handling of the communally charged Sabarimala temple issue and the rout in the recent Lok Sabha elections, the CPM is now convulsed by a spate of fresh controversies.
Suicide of a multi-millionaire NRI investor on June 18, a custodial death on June 21, a rape complaint against the son of a powerful party leader on June 14 and a few other unsavoury incidents involving party men have dented the image of the government and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in particular.
The latest incident, the custodial death of a 49-year-old daily wager named Rajkumar following third-degree police torture, stinks of police-politician nexus. Rajkumar’s is not a rags to riches story; it is the story of a class 9 dropout (who could not afford to continue his studies), whose mother worked as a domestic help. His life took a dramatic turn in March when he allegedly floated a financial firm in Idukki’s Thookupalam village, offering loans between Rs 1 and 50 lakh at 4 per cent interest. Within two months, hundreds were duped of crores of rupees. He was arrested following complaints, tortured and died in custody.
There is no trace of the crores collected by him anywhere (though official version is only Rs 2 crore). Rajkumar possessed a very old mobile phone and many wonder why a person handling finances worth crores did not own a smartphone.
The questions being asked are: who are the masterminds behind this scam and who used Rajkumar as a front? Did the police kill him to mask the identity of the fraudsters? He was picked up on June 12 but his arrest was recorded only on June 16 after four days of unauthorised detention.
After public uproar and the opposition protests, the case was handed over to the Crime Branch, which arrested a sub-inspector and police driver, suspended four officers and transferred eight. Independent observers suspect that the Crime Branch probe was a ploy to pre-empt likely demands of a CBI probe.
In April last year, SR Sreejith, a native of Varapuzha near Kochi, died in police custody following third-degree torture. Seven police officers were suspended following public outcry, but were reinstated eight months later citing lack of evidence.
On June 18, a 48-year-old billionaire NRI investor, Parayil Sajan, who was harassed by CPM-controlled Anthoor Municipality in Kannur, committed suicide. His wife Beena alleged that the municipal chairperson, PK Shyamala, refused to grant him occupancy certificate for a convention centre in a fit of pique.
Sajan, who had invested nearly Rs 16 crore for the convention centre, was found hanging in his house in Anthoor. For the last six years, he had been making rounds to the civic body and as well as to ministers, pleading for the completion certificate. Finding itself in the dock, the government gave clearance last Saturday, 18 days after Sajan’s suicide.
Party sources say the root cause of the suicide is the turf war between two muscular CPM groups in Kannur. Shyamala is the wife of MV Govindan, a powerful member of the state secretariat as well the Central Committee. Sajan had been close to a rival clique led by another strongman, P Jayarajan, who has gone public blaming Shyamala for Sajan’s suicide. So far only four civic officials have been suspended. Dissatisfied with government “inaction”, 41 Opposition lawmakers quit the government-run World Kerala Council (for the socio-cultural and economic integration of Malayalis living abroad) on June 29.
In February 2018, another NRI, 65-year-old P Sugathan, committed suicide. Sugathan had taken a plot of land near his home to set up a workshop and erected a shed there, but local CPM youth activists objected to the construction and allegedly demanded Rs 2 lakh as cut money. Sugathan approached all concerned authorities for justice but in vain. On February 25, he hanged himself in the shed he had erected.
As Sajan’s suicide rocked the state, another blow landed on the CPM. A woman from Bihar alleged that Binoy Balakrishnan, the eldest son of Kerala CPM boss Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, had sexually exploited and impregnated her on the false promise of marriage. The woman, who earlier worked as a bar dancer in Dubai, and was now based in Mumbai filed a police complaint against him on June 14.
Incidentally, Binoy was at the centre of a financial fraud in Dubai last year as a UAE businessman lodged a complaint against him alleging wilful non-payment of a loan of Rs 13 crore. The UAE authorities subsequently slapped a travel ban on him, but lifted it after the matter was sorted out under a cloak of secrecy.
In November last year, CPM legislator from Shornaur PK Sasi, who was political secretary to former CM EK Nayanar, was suspended from the party for six months following complaints of sexual harassment by a woman party worker. Sasi, a supporter of the Pinarayi Vijayan camp, was reinstated recently.
Last July, the party reinstated another leader accused of sexual misconduct. P Sasi, who was expelled in 2011 following a complaint of sexual assault by a party colleague, has been inducted into the Kannur district committee.
In January, a young IPS officer, Chaitra Teresa John, was shifted at the behest of the CM for daring to raid a local CPM office in Thiruvananthapuram. Her crime: she was tipped off that some CPM youth wing members wanted in connection with an attack on the medical college were in the party office but she failed to find them on reaching there.
The government has managed to control some damage, but Kerala watchers warn that these incidents are symptoms of a deep malaise -- leadership crisis, corruption, turf wars and the party losing the ideological war against the BJP. In short, Kerala can go Bengal and Tripura way sooner or later unless remedial measures are taken to arrest the drift.
(The author is a senior journalist and political commentator. Views are personal)
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