Thiruvananthapuram: The honeymoon of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in Kerala seems to have ended with Communist Party of India (Marxist) veteran VS Achuthanandan speaking out against the government in two controversial cases.
The 92-year-old leader broke the ceasefire brokered by the party’s central leadership on the eve of the Assembly election after the chief minister’s legal advisor MK Damodaran appeared in the court for a lottery king he has been fighting for over two decades and the government took a stand against his petition in the sensational Kozhikode ice-cream parlour sex scandal.
His long legal battle in the sex case came to a virtual end on Tuesday with the Supreme Court dismissing his petition for a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe against prime accused PK Kunhalikutty, former industries minister and leader of Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), warning him against using the court for settling political scores. The apex court chided him after government counsel KK Venugopal termed the case politically motivated.
The crusade launched by Achuthanandan against lottery king Santiago Martin in the early 2000 may also meet with the same fate if the government goes by the advice of the chief minister’s legal advisor, who had appeared in the high court on Tuesday to oppose the Enforcement Directorate’s order to attach Martin’s assets worth Rs 122 crore.
There is no reason to believe that the government will not do so since Martin has been a major source of fund for the party and its media outlets. The unholy deals between the party and the tainted lottery king came to the surface in 2008, when it was revealed that the party’s mouthpiece Deshabhimani had accepted Rs 2 crore from him when he was wanted in the state in connection with a tax evasion case.
The CPM refunded the amount and suspended the then Deshabhimani general manager EP Jayarajan in connection with the deal following a big uproar in the state. However, the party reinstated Jayarajan a year later and promoted him now as minister for industries and sports.
Achuthanandan had initiated a move for a CBI probe into the lottery scam during his 2006-11 tenure as chief minister alleging that he had looted Rs 80,000 crore from the state, but it was opposed by Pinarayi. A CBI probe was finally ordered by the Central government after pressure from the next Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) government.
However, the CBI gave clean chit to Martin in 23 cases. The last government has filed an appeal in the high court against the CBI decision to write off these cases. The Congress fears that the LDF government with Pinarayi at its helm may let off Martin easily. The party has demanded removal of Damodaran from the post of chief minister’s advisor if he had appeared for the lottery king without its approval.
The CPM has defended Damodaran’s appearance in the ED case, saying that the latter was not under the rolls of the government. Party central committee member and a close Pinarayi loyalist A Vijayaraghavan said Damodaran was free to pursue his legal career since he is not taking any remuneration from the government for advising the chief minister on legal issues.
The Achuthanandan camp suspects the hand of Damodaran, who is the counsel for the chief minister in the SNC Lavalin case, in the pro-Kunhalikutty stand the government took in the ice-cream parlour case in the Supreme Court. Damodaran, who had advised the government against prosecuting Kunhalikutty in his capacity as Advocate General during 1996-2001, was later accused of receiving considerations from the Kunhalikutty camp.
KA Rauf, a relative of Kunhalikutty, had alleged that the latter had paid Damodaran Rs 32.5 lakh to clear the debt of Malabar Aqua Farms, operated by his wife, and later he got the sick firm taken over by one of his friends. Rauf, who had handled the deals on behalf of Kunhalikutty, had made the revelations after they fell out due to some reasons.
Rauf had also alleged Kunhalikutty had paid bribes to judges for getting favourable verdicts and huge cash to the victims and witnesses for not speaking against him. It was on the basis of these revelations that Achuthanandan had moved the Supreme Court for a CBI probe against Kunhalikutty.
Reacting to the court verdict, the veteran leader said that the stand the state government took against his petition was unfortunate. "I have fought the case for the unfortunate girls who were the victims of the sex racket. The government should not have stated that the petition was politically motivated," he said.
He also expressed his displeasure over Damodaran’s appearance for Martin saying that it was he who forced the lottery king to quit Kerala. The party veteran claimed his pursuit of the case had prevented outflow of crores of rupees from the state.
Political analysts view the expression of displeasure by Achuthanandan against the government as a bad omen for the Pinarayi government. They feel that the nonagenarian leader can prove to be a thorn in the flesh of the chief minister if the government goes in the wrong direction.
The two have been daggers drawn till the Assembly election. Achuthanandan had tried to prevent the ascendance of the group led by Pinarayi by openly criticising their actions and sending missives to the central leadership frequently. He had caused big headache to Pinarayi by raking up the SNC Lavalin corruption case.
The tug of war between the two had even led to the suspension of two from the party’s politburo. However, they continued the tussle. It snowballed into an open war with the party state committee controlled by Pinarayi accusing Achuthanandan of "deteriorating to an anti-party mentality," at the Aalappuzha state conference in February last year and the latter walking out of the conference.
The two rivals agreed for a ceasefire before the Assembly election after the central leadership intervened and allowed both to contest the election. Though Achuthanandan had sought a clarification on his post-poll role, the party leadership had promised to consider his claims after the election. However, the leadership dismissed his claim for another term as chief minister citing his advanced age.
Though party general secretary Sitaram Yechury sought to put him in a corner by describing him as the ‘Fidel Castro’ of Kerala, Achuthanandan said he would rather prefer to be a sentinel of the people.
The Pinarayi government is trying to silence him by appointing him as the chairman of the Administrative Reforms Committee with a cabinet rank, but it has to be waited and seen how long Achuthanandan will remain silent.