Column | Outcome of gold smuggling case investigations could have political ramifications

As the investigations into the diplomatic baggage gold smuggling that has shaken and stirred Kerala politics gather steam, the question is will the Modi government step forward to douse the heat generated by the case or will the case end up being held hostage to a political compromise.

At a meeting of its state leadership, BJP national general secretary Arun Singh indicated that the party is aware of such speculations doing the rounds.

Singh, who attended the meeting — held via video-conferencing on July 18 — instead of party president J P Nadda, said, “The allegation is that the chief minister’s office was used for anti-national activities. There will be an inquiry into the case to expose the Kerala government. Let there be no doubt about it.”

However, the NIA's remand report submitted to the special court on Tuesday does not make any accusation against M Sivasankar, the former principal secretary to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.

The investigating agency’s report runs contrary to the allegations that the BJP state leadership has been levelling at many top officials in the chief minister’s office and the government administration.

Pinarayi Vijayan has not been rustled much. His confidence stems from his conviction that investigations will not be able to find any evidence against Sivasankar to link him to the gold smuggling-terrorism case.

Sivasankar is the only connection to the chief minister’s office in the case. If the agencies can’t find anything against him, then what happens to Swapna Suresh, Sarith Kumar and Sandeep Nair — the main accused in the case who are said to have used Sivasankar for their smuggling operations — and what they reveal will not be of much concern to the administration.

Sivasankar is the only link

M Sivasankar
M Sivasankar

The most important stage of the investigations is only about to begin. Therefore, the interest of the Union Home Minister, Amit Shah, and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval in the case and the attitude of the BJP government are crucial for the fate of the only Left government in India and its Chief Minister.

Union Minister V Muraleedharan, who has been constantly criticising the state government, has been largely silent on the case.

Muraleedharan was extremely critical of the state government’s demands for mandatory COVID testing for expatriates before they boarded a flight from a foreign country. He has, however, pointed out to the state leadership that his earlier criticism of the government was over matters that concerned his external affairs ministry. But he has told the state leadership that the current case is not under the ministry’s purview.

The Centre is also aware that if Murali’s war of words with Pinarayi got extended to this case, then there could be allegations that the investigation was being politicised.

The central leadership has told the state BJP leadership that the NIA will investigate the case based on the evidence it gathers and without leaving any loophole. The party leadership has been told that agencies will move against the IAS officer, who was considered to be loyal to the Chief Minister, only after collecting irrefutable evidence against him.

Sivasankar is not going to have it easy because, according to the Customs Act, providing assistance to criminals is also a crime. However, if Sivasankar were to escape unscathed, the opposition will allege that the CPM and the BJP have colluded in the case.

Even if Sivasankar gets a clean chit in the gold smuggling-terrorism case, there is another land mine the government will have to face. During interrogation, the NIA will collect information from Sivasankar regarding the already controversial consultancy and political funding scams.

The NIA has details from phone records that show Swapna and Sarith had connections at the top level of the government. Even though this link is not under the ambit of its investigation, the NIA can make known the details it has obtained and can itself recommend a CBI inquiry.

In an election year, a CBI investigation will be nothing short of a Damocles sword for the government.

Who will benefit?

The question that arose at the BJP leadership meeting was whether the UDF could ultimately end up being the political beneficiary of these moves.

The Sabarimala controversy that the BJP had raised helped the UDF in the Lok Sabha elections. It should be ensured that any central decision regarding the gold smuggling case does not end up benefiting the Left front similarly, state BJP president K Surendran said.

The BJP believes that the investigations into the gold smuggling case could expose the sources of funds of some UDF leaders. This would help the party expose both the fronts in the state, it believes. They are now preparing for a campaign that says ‘Kerala is not Swapna and Sarith’.

In the midst of all this, the big question facing the BJP and the RSS is whether they want to prevent the CPM from returning to power or if they want to stop the Congress from coming to power after the Assembly elections.

The answer to that question will be inextricably linked to the political fallout of the gold smuggling case.

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