The Kerala Assembly on Monday witnessed a fierce debate on a no-confidence motion moved by the Congress-led Opposition against the CPI(M)-led government. The motion was defeated, with 87 members from the ruling bench voting against it and 40 Opposition members supporting it.
A highlight of the 11-hour debate was the three-and-a-half-hour reply from Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who presented a progress report of his four-year-old government.
The Opposition moved the no-confidence motion mainly in the backdrop of the gold smuggling case and a controversy over alleged kickbacks in a housing scheme aided by Emirates Red Crescent. Swapna Suresh, an accused in the gold smuggling case, had allegedly pocketed Rs 3.78 core as kickbacks from the builder that bagged the construction deal for the housing project sponsored by the UAE agency.
Vijayan said the Opposition could not present a credible issue in the no-confidence motion. “Unrest in the UDF might have led to this no-confidence motion. This government, which assumed office with 91 seats, has now 93 seats, which shows the people’s confidence in this government. People have lost confidence in the UDF,” he said.
Taking a dig at the Congress over its leadership crisis, he said, “The Congress has become a party incapable of selecting a president. Even senior leaders are reluctant to assume the office of president.”
He said the party was reduced to being a B team of the BJP with regard to communalism. “An anti-Communist, anti-democratic platform is emerging in Kerala. Islamisation is happening in the Indian Union Muslim League (an ally of the Congress) through Jamaat-e-Islami and Hinduisation in the Congress through the BJP. A situation would also come in Kerala when the Congress would be deprived of the status of main Opposition party,” he said.
Referring to the allegations about gold smuggling, Vijayan said, “Does anyone among the arrested belong to the Left? The Opposition is trying to create confusion over smuggling. It is the Centre that has to probe the smuggling. The NIA has not stated anything against the CMO.” He added that the government would not protect anyone involved in smuggling or corruption. As Vijayan continued his speech, Opposition members trooped to the floor of the House and raised slogans against him.
Presenting the motion, senior Congress legislator V D Satheesan said the gold smuggling racket has hijacked the CM’s Office. “During an Assembly session in March, I had flagged the smuggling racket thriving in Kerala to the CM. But I never thought the CMO would become a centre of smuggling,” he said, in an apparent reference to alleged links of the CM’s former principal secretary M Sivasankar with the racket.
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The Opposition targeted Higher Education Minister K T Jaleel, who is in the midst of a controversy over bringing bundles of religious texts from the UAE through cargo meant for its consulate in Kerala. Opposition member K M Shaji alleged that Jaleel helped with the smuggling under the pretext of bringing religious texts. In his reply, Vijayan said, “Jaleel did not speak of diplomatic issues or accept any contributions. It was the Consul-General who had approached the minister with food packets and religious texts meant to be distributed. The UAE has been doing it across the world. Jaleel got involved in the issue in his capacity as minister for minority welfare and Wakf board.”
The Opposition also raised corruption charges in the state’s e-mobility project, which was drafted by Sivasankar during his term as IT secretary, and the decision to hand over public land for developing wayside amenities for passengers.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said the CM failed to give convincing answers on issues raised by the Opposition. “We had raised grave allegations. But the CM was running away from the issues without answering them. His reply…was like a budget speech,” he said.
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