The extended investigation by multiple central agencies into Kerala’s diplomatic baggage gold smuggling case certainly has the state’s LDF government struggling to defend itself. While the investigators were initially after CM Pinarayi Vijayan’s then secretary M Sivasankar, it is higher education minister K T Jaleel they are pursuing now.
Ever since he was questioned by the ED last week, opposition parties in the state have mounted a relentless attack—hitting the streets every day, insisting the minister must go. Now with the NIA too questioning the minister, the government’s defence seems to have weakened further. The fact is the minister isn’t exactly being questioned on the gold smuggling attempt.
For now, he is only being asked to explain the import and distribution of food and copies of the Quran through the UAE consulate, incidentally the channel used to smuggle the gold. While mere interrogation doesn’t make him guilty, the way he has been dodging questions and his desperate use of the religion card when cornered indicate there’s much he is hiding.
His act of accepting gifts from another country’s mission is seen as a violation of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act. Suspicion is also being raised about the contents of the consignments he received. Jaleel’s claim that they contained copies of the Quran hasn’t convinced everyone. On its part, the Pinarayi government has stood strongly behind its troubled minister, with the CM and his Cabinet colleagues maintaining there’s no need for him to resign.
The same government had backed Sivasankar in the initial days of the investigation but later suspended him after he was repeatedly questioned by the agencies. Here too, the government may find it difficult to protect Jaleel if the investigators continue to pursue him. While it’s essential to allow the agencies to do their job and wait for the outcome of the investigation, the LDF leadership will do well to consider the political implications of going all out to shield a minister under investigation, given that the Assembly election is just months away.