Ignoring uncomfortable questions has become the norm for Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. It was only a couple of days ago, during his sunset briefing, that he put on a resentful air and refused to answer a specific query on the mysterious delay in dismissing the governing council of Karuvannur Service Cooperative bank.
Today, during a discussion in the Assembly on police and jails, the chief minister was faced with a battery of charges related to the special privileges given to the killers of RMP leader T P Chandrasekharan. As usual, he did his best to avoid responding. Chandrasekharan's widow and Vadakara MLA K K Rema even asked why he was continuing as home minister if he could not stop organised crime in jails.
The Opposition alleged that T P Chandrasekharan murder convicts Kodi Suni, Muhammad Shafi and Keermani Manoj were remote-controlling criminal activities from the jail. They alleged that the convicts, undergoing life sentences, were the brains behind the attempted gold snatching at Ramanattukara in Thrissur that led to the death of five youths. It was said that Arjun Ayanki and Akash Thillenkeri, two CPM sympathisers nabbed in the Ramanattukara incident, worked for Kodi Suni and gang.
Most of the speakers from the opposition side, notably two former home ministers Ramesh Chennithala and Thiruvanchoor Radhkarishnan and K K Rema, had raised the issue in forceful terms. The chief minister made a long reply, speaking for over an hour, touching all the issues raised during the discussion except the alleged illegal activities of the T P murder convicts.
“How did smart phones reach the jail cells of Kodi Suni and Muhammad Shafi ,” Thiruvanchoor asked. “They carry out underworld activities from within the jail and secure parole whenever they feel like and for as long as they want,” he said. Thiruvanchoor called Kodi Suni the “de facto jail DGP”.
Chennithala, too, wanted to know who was ruling the jail. “The police are now behaving like the lackeys and sidekicks of criminals and murderers. Liquor, drugs and weapons are spirited into the jail for these criminals,” he said.
Muslim League MLA N Shamsudheen, borrowing a pandemic jargon, said that the T P murder convicts were enjoying their “work from jail” arrangement. “They are controlling all the criminal activities from inside the jail,” he said. “Kodi Suni has two smart phones and he has made 300 calls including international ones. Kirmani Manoj has three smart phones. They are getting everything in jail,” Shamsudheen said.
Kerala Congress' Mons Joseph found a profound irony in the luxury enjoyed by convicts. “At a time when the government itself is desperately trying to find mobile phones for children to study, we have convicts enjoying the services of multiple smart phones,” Mons said.
It was Rema who mounted the sharpest offensive. “Gold smuggling, hawala scam, the protection given to political murderers and quotation gangs, parole given in violation of rules to favourite convicts, destruction of evidence in POCSO cases, all these are instances of our democracy getting brutalised,” Rema said.
She said there were hundreds of reports that show that the functioning of most jails in Kerala was not in tune with the spirit of democracy. “Kerala Prisons and Correction Service is the official name of our Jail Department. But what correction service is being done in our jails,” she asked. “When ordinary workers like us had pointed out that our jails are being ruled by dangerous criminals with political patronage, the powers that be wriggled out citing technical reasons. But now they are faced with a long procession of proofs they just cannot ignore. We are now faced with the shameless situation of correction centres degrading into quotation call centres,” she said.
Rema said that for the last many years what was happening was a planned criminal conspiracy to provide favourite criminal gangs anything they require in their jail cells. “Mobile phones, SIM cards, phone chargers, power banks, recharge batteries, headphones, liquor, drugs, weapons and whatnot,” she said
Rema then asked Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who is also the home minister, a pointed question. "If organised crime cannot be prevented and goonda gangs cannot be controlled even in jails where maximum security is needed, why is the minister continuing in the post."
She also wanted to know whether the government was able to conduct a honest investigation into at least one of the hundreds of charges raised by the media and other political workers against the illegal activities of criminals like Kodi Suni, Muhammad Shafi and Kirmani Manoj. She said these criminals were using the illegal parole they secure for criminal and anti-national activities.
The chief minister did respond to the allegation of generous paroles. He said these paroles were not recommended by the government but by jail authorities as a safety measure during the pandemic. When Chennithala asked whether undeserving candidates had also got the benefit, the chief minister said he would look into it.
Nonetheless, he did not look inclined to respond to the charges against the T P murder convicts.
Satheesan's final poser
When it was clear that the chief minister would not comment on the illegal activities in jail, Opposition Leader V D Satheesan tried to pin him down. He interrupted the chief minister's speech and specifically asked him whether he had examined the allegations that certain convicts were given privileged treatment inside the jail and were masterminding criminal activities outside.
The chief minister gave a brief matter-of-fact reply, and put an end to the matter. “Just when such reports came I had discussed it with the Jail DGP and have given instructions to initiate strong action. I also understand that certain actions have been taken by the Jail DGP.”