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Gold smuggling case: Anti-govt protests roil Kerala for sixth day

Demand for Higher Education Minister Jaleel’s resignation grows shriller

Anti-government protests continued to buffet Kerala for the sixth consecutive day on Thursday.

The presence of Higher Education Minister K. T. Jaleel at the office of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for questioning in Kochi in connection with the UAE consulate-linked gold smuggling case appeared to have catalysed the protests led by Congress and BJP workers.

Protestors broke COVID-19 protocols and grappled with the police in Thiruvananthapuram, Kottayam, Kochi, Thrissur, Kozhikode and Kannur, resulting in injuries on both sides.

In Palakkad, police used pressurised water jets and swung batons to disperse Congress workers. Several persons, including V. T. Balaram, MLA, were injured in the melee.

Overlapping enquiries by Central agencies into various offences linked to the smuggling of gold into the country via air freight addressed to foreign officials at the UAE consulate in Thiruvananthapuram had roiled State politics. The multiple investigations had opened a Pandora’s box of allegations against the Chief Minister’s Office, Ministers and kin of ruling front politicians.

Support for Jaleel

The Left Democratic Front (LDF) has rallied behind Dr. Jaleel and dismissed the accusations raised by the Congress and BJP as politicking ahead of the elections to Local Self Government Institutions.

CPI State secretary Kanam Rajendran told reporters in Alappuzha that he did not see any ground for Dr. Jaleel’s ouster from the Cabinet. Former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy had not resigned when a judicial commission investigated him in the solar investment fraud case.

Left Democratic Front convenor A. Vijayaraghavan said the Central agencies should probe the “role” of Union Minister of State V. Muralidharan in “shielding” persons who illegally imported the contraband gold.

He said the Customs inquiry into the case had ground to a halt after the agency questioned the coordinating editor of a pro-BJP channel. The agency had also shunted the investigating officer to a desk job.

CPM State secretariat member M. V. Govindan said Dr. Jaleel did not need to resign even if an agency slapped a case on him.

Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala said the government had lost the moral right to continue in office. Dr. Jaleel was a suspect in the eyes of the Enforcement Directorate and NIA. The agencies appeared to have reason to believe that the accused in the UAE consulate-linked gold smuggling case had imported contraband under cover of Koran and date consignments during Ramzan.

Dr. Jaleel had come under the ambit of the investigation because he had received the gifts and carted it in a government vehicle to his constituency in Malappuram purportedly for distribution to needy families. Mr. Chennithala said more Ministers would get entangled in the anti-gold smuggling investigation.

Indian Union Muslim League leader E. T. Muhammad Basheer said in Kozhikode that the CPM had attempted to communalise the questioning of Dr. Jaleel by trying to portray that the Opposition was criticising the Minister for accepting the Koran for distributing during Ramzan. “This is not a question of religion or faith. It is a question of corruption”, he said.

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