A no-confidence motion, moved by the Opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front against the Left Democratic Front (LDF) Government in Kerala was defeated by 87-40 votes on Monday, August 24. After a marathon discussion lasting nine hours, the motion which was primarily on the gold smuggling case that has alleged links with a former top bureaucrat in the chief minister’s office, was defeated in the 140-member House with two vacancies.
The no-confidence motion was moved by senior Congress leader VD Satheeshan, with the support of UDF allies like the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and the PJ Joseph faction of the Kerala Congress (Mani). The opposition UDF has raised allegations of corruption in the government’s flagship housing project ‘Life Mission’. They also raised allegations against the government for consulting a law firm whom the state had consulted for legal advice about the bidding of Thiruvananthapuram’s airport privatisation. Since the family member of Adani Group chairman Gautam Adani is reportedly a partner in the law firm, the opposition alleged foul play in the bidding.
While moving the motion, Satheeshan alleged that the Chief Minister's office was "hijacked" by the gold smuggling gang. "While the Chief Minister was attending the press conference and saying that everything was fine with the government and was ready to face any probe, his former principal secretary was being questioned by investigating agencies for hours," Satheeshan said.
The state government had earlier suspended top bureaucrat M Sivashankar, for his alleged links with Swapna Suresh, a key accused in the gold smuggling case involving diplomatic baggage addressed to the UAE consulate in Thiruvananthapuram.
Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan had allotted five hours for the discussion on the no-confidence motion, a first against the four-year-old Pinarayi Vijayan government.
During the discussion, the ruling front members smashed allegations which had little or no evidence with clear data. While addressing the Assembly, Aranmula representive, Veena George said that the no-confidence motion is a political blunder by the Opposition. She further pointed out that the Opposition has been raising allegations without having any proof to back it.
Moreover, the main accused in the gold smuggling case have clear links with the leadership of IUML including Kunhalikkutty, she added. Initially, Union Minister V Muraleedharan had been trying to portray that the baggage in which the gold had been smuggled, is not a diplomatic one. The Opposition has no doubt about the involvement of BJP leader, said George.
Also read: Housing for All: Kerala Govt Builds 2 Lakh Houses Under Life Mission
Though the Opposition has also raised allegations against the Life Mission project through which more than two lakh families have got safe and secure homes, George pointed out that both in Paravoor Assembly constituency represented by VD Satheesan and in Harippad constituency of Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithalam more than 1,500 families have got homes under Life Mission.
Responding to the UDF on the allegations of corruption, A Pradeepkumar, ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) MLA, said, “You are the one to talk about corruption. Just as oxygen is important for human life, there is no UDF without corruption. Your history makes it clear. In your five-year administration, how many vigilance cases have been withdrawn against corruption?”
Meanwhile, ruling front member M Swaraj reminded the house about the corruption that had taken in the tenure of previous government. During the UDF rule, the DGP had reported that the offices of ministers were becoming a haven for criminals. In the solar case, the Kerala High Court had even asked whether it was the office of the culprits or the office of the Chief Minister, Swaraj said.
In response to the allegation of no recruitment through Kerala Public Service Commission, Swaraj countered that it was during the previous government’s tenure in 2012 that the news of the sale of PSC exam question papers had appeared in a leading newspaper. During the five years of UDF from 2011 to 2016, only 1,23,104 had been recruited through PSC, while the current LDF 1,40,615 people have already been recruited through PSC in the last four years.
Another allegation against the state government was in the case of relief funds. When the state had been hit with floods in 2018 and 2019, opposition parties – both UDF and BJP- had been campaigning that the public should not contribute to the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund (CMDRF). But UDF, during their tenure, had paid a total of Rs 651 crore from the relief fund. While Rs 5,100 crore have been given by LDF, Swaraj explained.
Chief Minister’s Response
While replying to allegations of Opposition on the ‘failure’ of the state government, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan presented the progress card of his government. During the 2016 election campaign, the LDF had presented 600 points in its election manifesto to be accomplished within five years. Every year, the state government presents the progress of these projects. But, due to the pandemic-induced lockdown, the progress report of fourth year could not be presented in the Assembly.
Also read: COVID-19 in Kerala: Staying Ahead of the Curve
In his detailed reply for over three and half hours, the CM said that it was unclear against whom the Opposition had brought the no-confidence motion, adding distrust is growing within the UDF and relations between allies are being disrupted and simply the Opposition has no confidence in them.
“The government that had come to power with 91 seats has now 93 seats. This simply proves that the government has won confidence of the people,” he added.
Slamming the leadership crisis within the Congress party, the CM added, “The Congress has become a party incapable of selecting a president. Even senior leaders are reluctant to assume the office of president.”
Replying to the allegations about gold smuggling, Vijayan said, “Does anyone among the arrested belong to the Left? The Opposition is trying to create confusion over smuggling. It is the Centre that has to probe the smuggling. The NIA has not stated anything against the CMO.”
Adhering to strict COVID-19 protocols, the Kerala Assembly convened for a day on Monday and passed the Finance Bill 2020-21, which could not be passed after the state budget in February as the House was adjourned sine die on March 13 due to the pandemic. A medical team conducted rapid antigen tests on the members early in the morning and social distancing in seating arrangements were ensured. Each member had a separate seat for the session, and provided with a sanitiser, mask and a pair of gloves and those entering the assembly complex were subjected to thermal scanning.
Two members of the UDF ally Kerala Congress Jose K Mani faction abstained themselves during the voting. BJP’s lone member O Rajagopal also stayed away.