Kerala govt faces the heat for cases against Opposition leaders, journalist

Kerala govt faces the heat for cases against Opposition leaders, journalist

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Three cases registered by the Kerala Police in the span of a week have prompted the Opposition and a large section of the media to train their guns on the Pinarayi Vijayan government.

While Leader of the Opposition VD Satheesan and Pradesh Congress Committee president K Sudhakaran facing the consequences of political rivalry with the ruling front can be expected, the case against Akhila Nandakumar, a female journalist from Asianet News, came as a surprise to many.

The three cases

Satheesan is facing a preliminary vigilance inquiry for allegedly collecting foreign funding without authorization. The MLA of Paravoor constituency in Ernakulam district is accused of accepting foreign funds for Punarjani, a programme he started in his constituency to build houses for flood victims in 2018, allegedly without having the necessary authorization. The case of alleged violation of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) is based on a petition submitted by an action council.

Sudhakaran, on the other hand, has been summoned for questioning by the Crime Branch of Kerala Police in connection with a cheating case involving controversial antique dealer Monson Mavunkal. The state PCC chief has been accused of being part of a fraud and of receiving a portion of the Rs 25 lakh that Mavunkal allegedly collected from the complainants.

Also read: Kerala: Asianet vs Left ‘cyber warriors’ fight turns into a full-blown battle

Mavunkal, who is currently in prison, allegedly led them to believe that a significant sum of foreign currency was stowed away in bureaucratic hoops and, to get access to it, he would have to bribe Union government officials. This is reportedly where Sudhakaran’s name popped up as a member of parliamentary committees. He has denied the allegation since Mavunkal’s arrest in 2021.

The case against Akhila Nandakumar, a chief reporter with leading Malayalam news television Asianet News, is for allegedly conspiring to malign Arsho PM, the state secretary of SFI, the students’ wing of the ruling CPI(M). She live telecast an allegation by rival organisation KSU that Arsho “passed” an exam he never appeared for. It later turned out to be a technical error, but Arsho alleged foul play. Based on his complaint, the police have named five accused, including the college principal and the reporter.

“Political vendetta”

The Opposition has dubbed the cases as “political vendetta” by the government against them and the media. According to Satheesan, when the allegation surfaced in 2020, he had urged the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) to look into it.

“The VACB had previously turned down this complaint. The complainant had approached the High Court seeking an order instructing the VACB to investigate me, but both the single and division benches had denied the request. The people of Kerala have the intelligence to understand the government’s motive for raising the matter at this time,” he added.

Also read: Kerala CM a ‘Modi in dhoti’: LoP Satheesan

Sudhakaran, on the other hand, dared the Chief Minister to prove any accusations against him, promising to resign from public office if he could. “Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan thinks that he can silence the Opposition by registering cases against Congress leaders,” said Sudhakaran. “It is the Chief Minister who should be going to jail for all the cases against him,” he fumed.

Sudhakaran claimed that he had gone to Mavunkal’s residence for treatment, as the latter claimed to be a trained cosmetologist.

Media furious

The case against Akhila was condemned by not only the Opposition but also by the media after CPI(M) state secretary MV Govindan reiterated the government’s decision to go ahead with it.

At least three major Malayalam dailies came up with hard-hitting editorials against the government’s move to slap a case against the journalist. Malayala Manorama warned the government that the comrades should keep in mind that this was Kerala before going ahead with the case. Matrubhumi and Madhyamam also criticised the government for its “authoritarian practice of muzzling the press”.

The journalists’ fraternity has stood by the reporter, urging the government to withdraw the case immediately. The Editors’ Guild of India has strongly criticised the Kerala government for booking a journalist for her report, saying it was “a matter of deep concern that mere reportage on political leaders can invite an FIR and questioning by the police”. It urged the government to withdraw the case against the journalist immediately.

Also read: Journalist bodies condemn SFI ‘attack’ on Asianet office in Kochi

No political agenda: LDF

However, the LDF leadership, including CPI(M) and CPI, has maintained that the government has no political agenda in slapping these cases. LDF convener EP Jayarajan said the case will not be registered against the journalist if she is found not involved in the “conspiracy” hatched to malign the SFI leader.

“There is nothing abnormal in police registering a case against someone. It’s just procedure to file an FIR when a complaint with a name is received. If there is no substance in it, the police will file a referral report,” said Kanam Rajendran, the state secretary of CPI.

Earlier, CPI(M) state secretary MV Govindan had taken a hard stance, stating that no one would be spared if they were found to be involved in criminal activities, not even journalists.

The CPI(M) leadership has been in loggerheads with a section of the media for quite some time, and the cyber warriors of the party have been constantly criticising a bunch of journalists for targeting the government by any means, including fake news.

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