Will political oneupmanship undermine Kerala's celebrated united fight against drug mafia?

(Left to right) Minister M B Rajesh and opposition legislators Mathew Kuzhalnadan and V D Satheesan in the assembly. Photos: Screengrabs/Sabha TV

Ninety-nine days ago, on August 31, Kerala Assembly demonstrated a rare unity of purpose. Together, the government and the Opposition resolved to fight as one to root out the drug mafia from Kerala's soil.

On Friday, right in the middle of the second phase of the official anti-drug campaign, this unity showed signs of crumbling in the very Assembly where it was forged.

The Opposition UDF, citing certain examples, made the provocative charge that the drug mafia had the ruling party's patronage.

The ruling side found this offensive and the House witnessed a bitter exchange of words. Members got up from their seats and rushed to the front, though none stormed into the well of the house or swarmed the Speaker's podium.

Opposition Leader VD Satheesan was shouted down by the LDF backbenchers. Satheesan, in turn, refused even ministers to make brief interventions. At that point the mike was with the Opposition Leader. Anybody else wanting to speak, even if it is a minister, can do so only if the man standing (the person to whom the mike is given) agrees. Satheesan repeatedly rejected Excise Minister MB Rajesh and Industries Minister P Rajeeve's requests to make brief interventions. This further provoked the ruling benches.

The situation turned so unruly that Speaker N Shamseer adjourned the House for the day saying it was impossible to conduct proceedings when both sides were unwilling to yield.

The adjournment motion on drug menace was moved by Congress MLA Mathew Kuzhalnadan. Even while acknowledging that the government had launched a major campaign against drugs, Kuzhalnadan asked: "Have we been able to demonstrate sufficient political will to fight the drug mafia?"

He said the drug mafia had political patronage. He gave two examples. One was the case related to a 13-year-old eighth-standard girl at Aazhoor at Vadakara, Kannur.

Addiction was induced in the girl and then she was used as a carrier. Her body had tattoo-like signs that would function as code for sellers and buyers. Her condition came to light when the girl poured buckets full of water on her inside the school bathroom unable to stand the heat of withdrawal when her handlers, as punishment, denied her drugs.

Kuzhalnadan said when the girl was brought for questioning to the police station, the accused, her handlers, were standing right outside. "She was terrified," he said.

Satheesan raised another point. "Why was the girl taken to the police station. The police should have talked to her at her home, where she was most comfortable," the Opposition Leader said.

Kuzhalnadan said the police had initially sent the girl back saying there were inconsistencies in her statement. They could have taken a case under the Juvenile Justice Act or under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, he said. "Shockingly, the FIR did not contain any reference to drug-related offences," Kuzhalnadan said.

He also mentioned the CPM connection in a recent incident of rape at Malayankeezh in Thiruvananthapuram, in which a minor girl was intoxicated with drugs and then molested. He said a senior DYFI leader was identified as the prime accused.

Kuzhalnadan said all of this suggested that the drug mafia was creating political patronage for itself. He said the arrests of DYFI and SFI leaders for drug-related offences were proof of the mafia's dangerous links with members of the ruling party

Rajesh responded like a man betrayed. "This is an unfortunate attempt to undermine the unity of our efforts," he said. He told Kuzhalnadan that the DYFI leader involved in the Malayankeezh incident was now behind bars. "Doesn't that tell you that there is no political patronage for such crimes," Rajesh said.

Though he said he would not respond in kind, Rajesh recalled the violence at the Meppadi Politechnic College in Wayanad in which a senior SFI leader, Aparna Gowri, was released and insinuated that certain other youth organisations were behind the violence that had its origins in drug-related fights within the campus. "I am not going to name the organisation like Kuzhalnadan," he said, leaving no one in doubt where his fingers were pointed.

All hell broke loose when Opposition Leader V D Satheesan responded to the minister's implication. He said the injured SFI leader herself had told the media that former SFI leaders were behind the attack at Meppadi Polytechnic. "The violence was the result of a fight between SFI gangs, and no KSU leader is involved," he said. "The accused in the case are the very same who had pulled down the MSF (Muslim Students Federation, League's student wing) flag in the campus. Do you think KSU students would pull down an MSF flag," he added.

The Opposition Leader also informed the House that the college principal had recently suspended the SFI unit secretary for drug use.

Satheesan also had something to say about the DYFI leader jailed for rape. He said his drug dealings and his other criminal activities were well known. "Six years ago a female had filed a complaint against him for harrasment. When his parents threatened to end their lives, the victim settled the case by forcing him to pay Rs 25,000 to the Sri Chithira Poor Home in Thiruvananthapuram. She had even penned a Facebook post attaching a receipt of the payment. Yet this criminal was given promoted by the DYFI," Satheesan said.

He said a CITU leader who had sponsored the first prize for a football tournament organised by the DYFI in Kochi was now in jail for drug-related offences. Further, he said it were CPM men who were behind the killing of two SFI leaders (Chirammel Khalid and Shameer) who had openly challenged the drug mafia at Thalassery, Kannur.

"It is high time we strengthened enforcement along with the peripheral anti-drug campaign activities like pledges and speeches," Satheesan said.

Nonetheless, he said the opposition would continue to support the anti-drug campaign. "It's our baby. It was the UDF that brought the issue to the attention of the government," he told Onmanorama.

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