Even as Kerala Higher Education Minister K T Jaleel was questioned by the NIA on Thursday in connection with the probe into the gold smuggling case and Opposition Congress and BJP kept up their demands for his resignation, the protests looks set to be a tightrope walk for the Congress-led UDF, which has high stakes in the minority vote-bank.
Kerala is due for Assembly polls next year, and Jaleel has indicated that he is being hunted for having accepted religious texts meant for distribution.
The NIA questioned Jaleel for several hours in connection with the gold smuggling case and his alleged links with arrested prime accused Swapna Suresh, a former executive secretary at UAE consulate, and other accused. The NIA has invoked anti-terror law UAPA in the smuggling case.
Multiple central agencies are probing whether Jaleel, who is also the state Minority Welfare Minister, has violated protocol while dealing with a foreign mission. According to investigators, the minister had accepted packets of the Quran and food kits directly from the consulate and ferried the consignment to his constituency – Thavannur, in Malappuram district – in a government vehicle.
Read more on Kerala gold smuggling case| NIA arrests four more for financing smuggling
Although Jaleel has admitted that he had accepted the religious texts from the consulate, the investigating agencies are trying to ascertain whether any contraband was smuggled under the guise of religious books. The Opposition has questioned impropriety of a minister taking initiative in distributing religious texts to his community members.
Opposition protests against the LDF government has intensified after the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had questioned Jaleel last week.
But the minister looked to turn the tables on Congress ally Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), saying that he is ready to send back packets of the Quran if IUML chief Panakkad Hyderali Shihab Thangal wants them not to be distributed. The IUML, he asserted, should do justice to the word “Muslim” in its name.
On Thursday, Jaleel continued to harp on the same point: “If Panakkad Thangal says distribution of the Quran is not required, I am ready to send back the packets. Are IUML leaders ready to take up that challenge after placing their hands on the Holy Quran? Truth will eventually win.”
Law Minister and CPI (M) central committee member A K Balan said, “Jaleel is a genuine faithful. This issue is a setback for pseudo-faithfuls.”
Senior IUML leader and Deputy leader of Opposition M K Muneer countered saying that CPI(M) is trying to lend a “religious angle to the issue”.
Muneer, a former state minister, said, “CPI (M) leaders are saying that speaking against Jaleel would amount to blasphemy. The CPI(M) feels politically targeting Jaleel on the issue is equal to targeting religion, but that will not work in Kerala, where we have erudite religious leaders. We are concerned about the alleged crime, but the approach of CPI(M) would only help communal forces grow.”
The LDF, however, seems to be in no mood to jettison the minister, who is reckoned as a rallying point for anti-Congress, anti-IUML votes for the Left. Even though not a CPI(M) member, Jaleel, who was sacked from IUML in 2005 and then fought three Assembly elections with CPI (M) support, is said to have considerable clout with the state leadership.
Addressing the media on Thursday, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan repeated his support for Jaleel: “He accepted the Quran as a minister who handles the Minorities department. How can certain people complain against accepting the Quran? We can understand the Congress and the BJP complaining, but on what basis is IUML and its leaders joining hands on the Quran issue and attacking Jaleel? He has not committed any crime.”
The pro-CPI (M) Sunni Muslim faction, led by Kanthapuram AP Aboobaker Musliyar, has extended support to Jaleel. “The issue involves the UAE, where lakhs of people from Kerala work. The Congress and BJP are using the matter, which has emotional aspects, for political ends,’’ a leader of the faction said.
Pro-IUML Sunni Muslim leader and general secretary of Samastha Kerala Sunni Students’ Federation, Nazer Faisy Koodathai, however, said, “Reference to religion and religious text should have been avoided.”
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