Updated: September 17, 2020 6:24:53 pm
The Opposition Congress and the BJP stepped up protests across Kerala, hours after KT Jaleel, state minister for higher education and minority welfare, appeared before the National Investigation Agency (NIA) officials in Kochi in connection with alleged FCRA violation and the probe into the Thiruvananthapuram gold smuggling case.
Jaleel arrived in a private car belonging to a former CPM MLA around 6 am Thursday at the NIA office in Kochi purportedly to dodge the local media which has been following the minister’s movements for the past few days. The questioning is underway as of 1 pm, with no statements yet from either the minister’s office or the NIA officials.
Meanwhile, protests led chiefly by the Congress and the BJP flared up across Kerala, calling for Jaleel’s resignation. At several places in Palakkad, Kollam, Kozhikode, Kottayam and Kannur districts, members of the Youth Congress, Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, Mahila Morcha and KSU (student outfit of Congress) clashed with the police as they took out marches to government offices.
At several places, the police resorted to the use of tear gas, water cannons and lathi-charge to disperse protesters. In Palakkad, Congress MLA VT Balram was among those injured in clashes with police.
Congress Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala and BJP state president K Surendran reiterated calls for Jaleel’s dismissal from the cabinet on grounds of violating protocol as a minister. Chennithala also demanded Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s resignation alleging the government had no reason to remain in power anymore.
However, Vijayan has resisted such demands insisting that Jaleel is not guilty.
“Things are being manoeuvred in a way that is not suitable for Kerala. A character known as Jaleel is being created to serve the agenda of IUML and BJP alike. Everyone should realise that this is Kerala,’’ he said Tuesday, referring to the Muslim League (IUML), an ally of the Congress.
The NIA’s grilling of Jaleel comes days after he was interrogated by officials of the Enforcement Directorate (ED), which has been probing allegations of money laundering in connection with the gold smuggling racket busted at Thiruvananthapuram airport in July this year. The minister is under probe for accepting consignments of religious texts including the Holy Quran through the UAE consulate that could fall under the violation of Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010. Since gold was found to have smuggled into the country through the diplomatic baggage several times, officials believe it could have even been brought in under the guise of religious texts.
An ED official had told the indianexpress.com that the minister’s statement had been recorded as part of information-gathering in the smuggling case.
However, Vijayan had said, “The ED questioning him need not be seen as a big issue. Giving the Quran cannot be seen as a mistake. But certain people feel that (distributing Quran) is a mistake – even IUML (a Congress ally) feels so. If Jaleel is involved, the Quran becomes untouchable for IUML.’
The Opposition believes further interrogation by investigative agencies coupled with its protests across the state will pile pressure on the CPM-led government to dismiss Jaleel from the cabinet. Eight months ahead of Assembly elections, the move could provide the Opposition the firepower to puncture the government’s ‘no-corruption’ image.
Jaleel, a first-time minister, spent a long innings within the IUML before he was expelled in 2005 for rebelling against the party leadership. He then associated with the LDF as an Independent, winning thrice in 2006, 2011 and 2016 with its backing. The CPM considers him a vital link to make inroads into Malappuram, which has been a stronghold of the IUML for decades.
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