With Sivasankar and Bineesh’s arrests, CPI (M) suffers setback ahead of election

The Opposition has strengthened its clamour for the CM’s resignation.
Bineesh and Sivasankar
Bineesh and Sivasankar

From the word go, the Kerala gold smuggling case has proved to be a major challenge for the Pinarayi Vijayan government in the state. But, with the latest back-to-back arrests of a top bureaucrat and the ruling CPI(M) leader’s son in two different cases, the Kerala government and the CPI(M) has suffered a blow. IAS officer M Sivasankar, who was suspended from the post of Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister when the scam broke out in July, was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate on Wednesday (October 28) night. More than 12 hours later, CPI(M)’s state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan’s son Bineesh Kodiyeri was arrested by ED on October 29 in Bengaluru drugs peddling case. Public perception matters most for the CPI(M) now as the Kerala Assembly election 2021 is just a few months away. In fact, the local body polls, too, is set to take place in December 2020. 

With this, the opposition parties have once again intensified their attack against the Left government, renewing their clamour for Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s resignation.  While Kerala Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said that the current government should not “shamelessly” continue to be in power, BJP’s Kerala unit president K Surendran said that the CPI(M) should address these matters both “morally and politically”. 

Meanwhile, Pinarayi Vijayan maintains that the state government removed Sivasankar from the post of Principal as soon as aspersions were cast and some proof of links to Swapna emerged. With respect to Bineesh’s arrest, too, the CPI(M) continues to stand by its previous stand, that the party won’t protect the Secretary’s son. Though Sitaram Yechury, the general secretary of CPI(M) and Left Democratic Front (LDF) convenor Vijayaraghavan have insisted that there is no crisis, sources in the party say that many are unhappy with Kodiyeri and believe that Sivasankar's arrest won't impact the party's prospects, but Bineesh's will.

Political analysts also note that the latest controversy has undoubtedly come as a disadvantage to the Left party, but how these will affect CPI(M) during the elections depends on the campaigning by the opposition. 

A humiliation for Kerala: Opposition

Congress leader and former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said that Pinarayi Vijayan does not have the moral right to continue as the CM of the state. It may be noted that towards the end of Oommen Chandy’s term as the Chief Minister, the CPI(M) had mounted pressure demanding his resignation in the infamous 2013 solar scam case. The former CM’s close aide and personal staff was arrested in the case of cheating and aiding the accused, Saritha Nair and Biju Radhakrishnan. Today, the boot in on the other foot. 

“It was the CM himself who wrote to the Union government, urging an investigation by the agencies in the case. Now there is no point in blaming the investigating agencies,” alleged Chennithala immediately after news broke of Binesh Kodiyeri’s arrest on Thursday. ED arrested Bineesh for his links with Anoop Mohammed, a native of Kochi who is an accused in the Bengaluru drug peddling case.

Chennithala also took a dig at Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, saying that he should continue as the party secretary as “that would be good for the Opposition”. Incidentally, Kodiyeri had once said that Chennithala should remain as the Opposition leader as his numerous lapses would be good for the CPI (M).

Meanwhile, Bindu Krishna, president of the Kollam District Congress Committee, told TNM that it is shameful that a ruling party secretary’s son is involved in a drug mafia.

“His (Kodiyeri’s) sons have been involved in many controversies and have misused their father’s post. The people have clearly seen this. Sivasankar was also one of the most powerful persons in the government. He had enjoyed the power of a ‘super secretary’, probably higher than that of the Chief Secretary. Smugglers were allowed in the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) and his residence while party workers and common men found it difficult to meet him," said Bindu Krishna.

VD Satheesan, a Member of the Legislative Assembly and Vice-President of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC), said that the arrests were an example of how much a party can deteriorate.

“Bineesh has a role in all shady businesses in the state. These have been considered trivial. There is not even one member in the CPI(M) who can stand up and question his activities, and this case is an evidence of that,” he alleged while speaking to 24 News channel. 

BJP state President K Surendran demanded that the CPI(M) should answer Bineesh’s arrest both politically and morally. He even alleged that the Cliff House (CM’s official residence) and the AKG Centre (CPI(M) headquarters) have been shielding smuggling activities.

LDF position weakened

The CPI(M)-led LDF government has weathered several controversies since it came to power in May 2016, including the recent Sprinklr scam, where the government was accused of allowing access of private information of COVID-19 patients to the US-based company Sprinklr. In most of the cases, the CM defended his Cabinet members and officials. For instance, when Kerala transport minister Thomas Chandy was caught in a land encroachment scam in 2017, Pinarayi and the party leadership said it will protect the Minister at any cost. In the Sprinklr case, too, the CM defended Sivasankar (Kerala government inked the deal on the IAS officer’s advice). 

However, the gold smuggling case, which opened a can of worms, is one of the biggest blows ever. So much that, Pinarayi Vijayan had to remove Sivasankar from the CM’s office as Principal Secretary and as the IT Secretary.

Political analyst J Prabhash said the new crisis is definitely a disadvantage for the party. “The LDF government has again weakened its position with the arrests,” he pointed out.

According to senior journalist and political analyst BRP Bhaskar, the CPI(M) need not take responsibility in Sivasankar’s case. “We can however question why the Chief Minister was not aware of Sivasankar’s activities as had worked with the CMO,” he told TNM. 

However, he said that the responsibility of crimes cannot be fully pinned on the Chief Minister too as Sivasankar was a government official, not a personal staff of the CM. 

Bhaskar also added that neither the government nor the party has to take responsibility for Bineesh Kodiyeri’s arrest. “But, since Kodiyeri holds a higher position, he should have known what his sons were doing, even though they are adults. Kodiyeri has moral responsibility on this, but not legal,” he pointed out. 

 “When the state government says the law will take its course, there is the question of morality. And history has always shown CPI(M) to be a party that has upheld its moral values above the law, which has made it distinct from others. But, that prominence is lost when morality is pushed away by the same party,” said Prabhash.

He also added that the latest issues have not even become a discussion within all levels of the party. “The decisions are always taken by a few in the top leadership. These issues are not discussed within the party by other members, and that is the adversity,” Prabhash added.

However, he said that the reflection of these controversies on the elections will depend on how the opposition parties will take it up. He said, “Congress has its own set of problems, like factional fight and a leadership deficit. If they can set aside this and focus on the issues against CPI(M), polls can turn in their favour. Otherwise, BJP will gain ground.” 

With inputs from Neethu Joseph 

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