Kochi, Two days after Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan gave a clean chit to the state’s Higher Education Minister K.T. Jaleel in the Kerala gold smuggling case, the latter was summoned by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Thursday and was questioned for over eight hours.
The opposition was quick to intensify its demand for Jaleel’s resignation and took to the streets across the state. At most places they clashed with the police, who used water canons and smoke grenades.
However the Left leadership has ruled out his resignation.
Jaleel has already been questioned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED).
He arrived at the NIA office around 6 a.m. in the vehicle of a former CPI-M Legislator as the police had cordoned off the entire area. He came out at around 5 p.m.
It was which broke the news on Tuesday, that as part of widening its probe into the Kerala gold smuggling case, the NIA is all set to question Jaleel in the next two days.
“We will record the statement of Jaleel in the Kerala gold smuggling case,” a senior NIA official .
The NIA official also said that the anti-terror probe agency is going through the digital evidence it collected so far from Swapna Suresh, the main accused in the case, which points fingers at some VIPs.
The official clarified that Jaleel was not named in the case, but the agency wanted to question him to find out if there was any gold smuggling going on under the guise of distribution of religious texts.
When the news first surfaced, Jaleel said that it was the UAE Consulate which sought his help to distribute the Holy Quran and he only did that.
For the past six days, ever since reports surfaced that Jaleel was questioned by the ED, the opposition parties have been demanding his resignation.
The day also witnessed members of the Yuva Morcha shouting slogans praising the NIA, before its office.
With the news spreading that Jaleel is being questioned, opposition activists of the Congress and the BJP clashed with the police at several district headquarters demanding the resignation of Jaleel.
At Palakkad Congress legislator V.T. Balram was injured in a police lathi charge.
Vijayan, however, has feigned ignorance of what was happening and has gone on record to say that he did not have any clue about what wrong Jaleel has done. He said there was no reason for Jaleel to quit.
Reacting to the turn of events, Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala said time is up for Jaleel and he has no other option but to quit.
“The ideal situation would be for Vijayan himself to submit his resignation and face the electorate. The NIA is the agency that looks into terror related cases and Jaleel, instead of getting more shamed, should quit. Vijayan is now worried as he fears he will also be questioned. This act of questioning should not be seen lightly,” said Chennithala.
State BJP president K. Surendran said Jaleel’s position is weakening day by day as both the ED and the NIA are after him.
“Vijayan is scared. He is worried that he too may be investigated or his other ministers may also be probed. It’s Vijayan who has to quit as he has brought shame to Kerala since some of his Ministers are under a cloud,” said Surendran.
But the ruling Left Democratic Front has dismissed all the allegations levelled by the opposition and ruled out the resignation of Jaleel.
State Law Minister A.K. Balan said that Jaleel was called by the ED who took his statement and the same thing will happen with the NIA also. There is nothing untoward in this as it is a routine procedure.
State CPI secretary Kanam Rajendran asked the media to name one Minister who has resigned just because he was called for taking his statement.
“There is no need to create a new precedent,” said Rajendran.
The gold smuggling case was unearthed when P.S. Sarith, a former employee of the UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram, was arrested by the Customs on July 5 when he was facilitating smuggling of 30 kg gold in diplomatic baggage to the state capital from Dubai.
Things turned murkier when the name of Swapna Suresh, a former employee of the Consulate and later employed with the IT Department, surfaced. Later, her links with the now-suspended IAS officer M. Sivasankar, then posted as Principal secretary to Vijayan and also the IT Secretary, came to light.
So far, the NIA has zeroed in on 25 accused, of which 20 have been arrested.