The allegations about a gold smuggling racket’s connection with the office of the Kerala chief minister have died down only to give rise to another controversy involving a Cabinet minister.
After higher education minister K T Jaleel was interrogated by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Friday (September 11), the Opposition Congress and the BJP created a storm demanding his resignation.
The minister and the government maintain that all the allegations are baseless and the Opposition is trying to tarnish the image of the government with an eye on the Assembly election that is round the corner.
Jaleel, who was tight-lipped on the controversy on Friday, spoke to The Federal and said that he has nothing to hide and that he has shared whatever information the ED asked for. “They did not ask me anything about gold smuggling. The queries were on the consignment of the Koran sent by the UAE government through the consulate. I told them everything I know,” the minister told The Federal.
The gold smuggling case came to light when Customs officials detected smuggled gold in diplomatic parcels addressed to the UAE consulate in Thiruvananthapuram. Some ex-employees of the consulate are the main accused in the case.
“There is nothing new and unusual about it. The UAE government gives copies of the holy Koran as a gift to individuals and organisations. This is being practised as a custom. A consignment of 32 packets of Koran (1,000 copies) was sent in the first week of June. I am also the minister of Wakf and, hence, I was asked whether these copies can be distributed to religious charity institutions in the state,” says the minister. He said the consignment of 32 packets was sent to the office of CAPT (Centre for Advanced Printing and Training), an autonomous undertaking established by the government of Kerala. They were then sent to a couple of religious institutions in north Kerala.
“The Enforcement Directorate officials asked me nothing about the gold smuggling issue. They wanted to know more about the consignment of Koran sent by the UAE government. I have also shared with them my bank account and details of my assets. Everything is there on paper. I have nothing to hide,” says the minister.
Accepting religious books from the UAE is alleged to be a violation of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010. No state official is supposed to receive freebies or gifts of foreign countries through diplomatic channels without the prior approval of the Centre. But, Jaleel maintains he has not violated any protocol. “I have not acted on anything that involves a diplomatic question. Accepting religious texts and Ramzan gifts is a cultural activity,” says the minister.
He also said that it is the responsibility of the central government to make it clear if there is a violation of the rule of law in the UAE sending copies of the holy Koran to India. “The UAE is a country that has been in close ties with India. The government of UAE happily accepted our PM’s request to construct a temple in the UAE for the Hindu believers living there. The exchange of religious practices is not illegal,” says the minister.
However, the opposition has taken this as yet another opportunity to put the government in the dock. “A minister being interrogated by a central investigating agency is a matter of shame. He should quit the position immediately,” said Ramesh Chennithala, the leader of Opposition. The BJP also has raised protests demanding the resignation of the minister.
Sources within the CPI(M) indicate the party and the government will not yield to the pressure mounted by the Opposition and will stand by the minister. They said that the Congress and the BJP are trying to target Jaleel now as they got nothing to connect the CM’s office with the gold smuggling racket that was busted at the Trivandrum international airport on July 5. According to them, this is a reflection of their desperation caused by the worry that this government would get a second term in power.
Jaleel, an MLA from Thavanur in Malappuram district, started his political career with the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML). He later parted with the League and aligned with the Left. He established his presence in the CPI)M) with his historic victory against the IUML stalwart, Kunjalikkutty, in the 2006 Assembly polls.
Jaleel has been targeted by his political adversaries often. He has been caught in many controversies and allegations of nepotism, but no one has been able to bring up any solid evidence against him. His name surfaced in the gold smuggling case right at the beginning, but the investigating agencies have not found any evidence against him so far.