Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan appeared increasingly vulnerable as he was forced to remove his most trusted man, M Sivasankaran, who was both his principal secretary and IT secretary, for his connection with the main accused in the gold smuggling through diplomatic channel.
An invigorated opposition has interpreted the sacking as a sign of the chief minister acknowledging the misuse of his office for the questionable activities of the woman. His embarrassment was further aggravated by the fact that the woman happened to be occupying a crucial post in the IT department under his own charge.
On Monday, when the scam came to light, the chief minister had tried to distance himself by insisting that he was not aware of the appointment of the dubious woman. But with these claims failing to cut ice, he was forced to act.
Sivasankaran was first removed as the principal secretary in the morning, which meant that the embattled official would hold on to his IT department post. But this provided further ammunition to the opposition, whose leaders addressed a series of press conferences to mount their attack, forcing the chief minister to remove his man from the secretary’s post as well.
The axing of the IT secretary happened even as Congress workers took out protest marches in various parts of the state in apparent violation of Covid protocol, for which some of them were taken into custody. Both Congress and BJP have threatened state-wide protests on Wednesday.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who began his daily briefing with comments about disturbing trends in the spread of Covid virus, saying it marks a new phase of super spread, vehemently denied any knowledge of the gold smuggling episode. The state recorded the highest daily number of 272 Covid cases for the day.
He asserted that neither the chief minister’s office nor the IT department had any connection with the accused woman as she was only on a contract job with the department. He pointed out that she was brought to the department by a placement agency for a marketing assignment on a contract basis. She was not appointed by the department, he claimed.
Vijayan said that Sivasankaran was not removed for his connection with the gold smuggling, but in view of the public perception about the man after television channels aired footage of the woman’s neighbours saying that he was a regular visitor to her house.
He asserted that airports were under control and management of the central government and the state government had no role there. The mechanism to fight smuggling is also controlled entirely by the central agencies and as such the state government cannot be linked to the incident.
He further pointed out that the parcel in the diplomatic baggage was meant for the UAE consulate and addressed to an official of the mission. It was not meant for any office of the state government and therefore the state government cannot be linked with the offence.
Declaring that the state government was willing to cooperate with any investigation by any central agency, which was for the Centre to decide, he said it had no problems with a CBI inquiry into the incident.
Earlier in the day, opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala had told newspersons that he has written to the prime minister asking for a CBI inquiry into the episode. State PCC chief Mullappally Ramachandran went a step further and demanded that the chief minister must be included in the probe.
The CPI-M is upset with the development at a time when the ruling front has been talking about a second term for the Pinarayi government and the party leadership, including the central leaders, have demanded stern action against those who are responsible.