Yet again, during his customary sunset briefing on Thursday, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan adopted the 'Mann Ki Baat' strategy. For over 20 minutes he said what he wanted to say and, with the precision of a radio programme, wound up his briefing right on the dot, refusing to take any questions as though it would mess up a tightly arranged broadcast schedule.
The chief minister's talk was not exactly 'Mann Ki Baat' as he told reporters to give all their questions beforehand. The reporters obliged but Pinarayi, rather than taking the questions one by one, went on to read from his prepared text.
This was a let down as the chief minister looked uncharacteristically calm, with a smile that suggested he was not going to be provoked by any question.
He fully ignored the question about the arrest of CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan's son, Bineesh Kodiyeri. Neither did he wait to take the most obvious question on why his intelligence wing had failed to pick up his former principal secretary's wayward dealings.
The gist of what Pinarayi Vijayan said was that he could not be held accountable for anything that M Sivasankar had done, an argument that he and his party have been consistently making.
"A civil service officer's connections or his personal interventions is not a government's responsibility. Action was taken the moment it was found that this (Sivasankar's behaviour) was affecting the government," the chief minister said.
He said that Sivasankar was not known to him before he became chief minister. Sivasankar, he said, was picked up from a list of officers given to him. Pinarayi also said that Sivasankar was not fastracked as principal secretary in the Chief Minister's Office (CMO) but came up the usual way, after the retirement of two senior officers Nalini Netto and V S Senthil.
"Neither the government nor the political leadership had done anything against the rules. No one has been able to point out anything either," he said.
The only thing newsworthy in the monologue was the chief minister dumping his restraint and making it clear that the central investigating agencies were acting at the behest of their political masters. Still, Pinarayi did not make his point directly. He opened fire using the Congress leaders as cover.
The chief minister said it were the national leaders of the Congress who had said the Centre was misusing the investigating agencies. Sonia Gandhi had even observed that partisanship had affected the very existence of central agencies, Pinarayi said. Rahul Gandhi, too, holds such an opinion, he said. "But what the opposition leader (Ramesh Chennithala) says is that though it is true for the rest of the country, central agencies are not behaving in a partisan manner in Kerala," Pinarayi said, and asked rhetorically: "We would like to know what is it that makes the central agencies turn so impartial once they cross the Walayar pass."
Till now, even when the CPM was highly critical of their role, the chief minister had refrained from imputing any political motives to the central agencies.
Fact is, after the Enforcement Directorate made a damning revelation in its latest remand report/arrest order, Pinarayi Vijayan had no choice but to shed his neutrality. The remand report had said that Sivasankar, at Swapna Suresh's request, had called customs officials to get some diplomatic consignments cleared in September 2019.
Nonetheless, it has not yet been proved whether the baggage, the airport clearance for which Sivasankar had intervened, had contained contraband gold.
The latest charge had clearly put the chief minister on the defensive. Initially, when the gold smuggling racket was busted, the BJP state president K Surendran had alleged that someone from the Chief Minister's Office had called up the Customs to get the diplomatic bag cleared.
It was Surendran's turn to run for cover when a senior customs officer based in Kerala told the media that no one had called from the CMO. The officer was promptly transferred outside Kerala.
Referring to the latest charge, Pinarayi said that an untruth that was busted early on was now being paraded afresh. The chief minister did not say point-blank that they were playing politics but he could not have been more clear about what he thought were the intentions of the central agencies.