Why Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan chose to no longer shield Sivasankar IAS

On Tuesday morning, Sivasankar was removed from the CM’s office as Principal Secretary and within hours he was also removed as the IT Secretary.
Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan with Sivasankar IAS
Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan with Sivasankar IAS
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“The Chief Minister knows Swapna Suresh. His statement that he does not know how she got placed in a government office is a blatant lie,” it is with this declaration that BJP leader K Surendran started his press meet on Tuesday.

The Chief Minister has found himself in the midst of a huge political controversy as his Principal Secretary, one of his most trusted bureaucrats, has been accused of being close to Swapna Suresh, a woman whose name has been mentioned as one of the suspects in a sensational case where gold was smuggled in a diplomatic bag from the Abu Dhabi Foreign Affairs Ministry to the Consulate in Kerala.

Though Swapna has not been named in the FIR filed by the Customs Department, it is confirmed that she is absconding and Customs has sought the Kerala police’s help to secure her for questioning.

Things started getting murkier with her neighbours telling the media that Kerala’s IT Secretary and Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister, M Sivasankar (IAS) was Swapna’s friend. The scandalous tones of these accusations aside, uncomfortable questions were raised on why Swapna was appointed a few months ago on contract as marketing liaison officer of the Space Park under the Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Limited (KSITIL). The KSITIL works under Kerala’s IT department, and it has been alleged that Sivasankar was behind her appointment.

When asked about Swapna’s appointment to KSITIL, the Chief Minister said he was not aware of it. But unlike the past two instances where the CM had supported the bureaucrat, it was clear that this time the CM could no longer afford to shield Sivasankar.

On Tuesday morning, Sivasankar was removed from the CM’s office as Principal Secretary and within hours he was also removed as the IT Secretary.

Sivasankar, an engineer and MBA graduate, started his career with the Reserve Bank of India. A topper in SSLC and an SFI leader from the NSS Engineering College in Palakkad, his ascent was smooth in Kerala’s bureaucracy. He was conferred with IAS in 1995 and has held several portfolios in the government. In 1998-99, he was with the IT Mission Group and Administrative Reforms Committee (ARC) and in 2002 he was credited with launching the first smart ration card as the Director of Civil Supplies.

There were many who were surprised when Pinarayi Vijayan appointed him as his Principal Secretary, moving away from the convention of either having a political secretary or appointing a senior bureaucrat in charge.

That Pinarayi was close to Sivasankar was obvious from his appointment, but the Chief Minister’s implicit trust in the officer became evident when he shielded him during the Sprinklr controversy. As Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala questioned why the Kerala government had decided to handover data on COVID-19 to an American company, and the issue hogged headlines, Sivasankar continued to enjoy the CM’s protection.

In press meet after press meet, Pinarayi defended Sivasankar and the IT department, till the courts stepped in and the government’s stand became untenable. Sivasankar played his part well too in shielding the CM’s office and was on different channels proclaiming that the buck stops with him and no one else. 

Then came the accusations surrounding the e-mobility project. When the Congress questioned why the project was handed over to PricewaterHouseCoopers Pvt Ltd, the CM refuted all allegations. Though the IT department was once again under the scanner, the CM said, "The company against which the Opposition Leader has raised allegation was empanelled under the NICSI and the company has been engaged in consulting services for the defence ministry and ICMR, among others.”

That controversy had barely died down when the diplomatic bag with 30 kg gold was seized at the Thiruvananthapuram airport. 

This time, the Chief Minister knew that it would not be prudent to support Sivasankar, as the controversy over her had reached his doorstep. Parallels were already being drawn between Sarita Nair and Swapna Suresh. 

“The woman has no connections with the CMO or with the IT department. The IT department has many projects and she was on contract for one project. Allegations were raised against Sivasankar with the woman, he was removed from the post based on it. It doesn't mean these allegations against him are legal. But since these have been raised in public, it is not right that such a person sits in the CMO. Can UDF even think about taking such a stance? They can’t,” the CM said on Tuesday.

However, removing Sivasankar will not be an end to this political controversy. The Opposition leader has already called it an eyewash and has asked why the CM cannot ask for a CBI probe if he and his office had no involvement with Swapna Suresh.

Watch CM press meet:

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