Thiruvananthapuram: A visibly uncomfortable Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan tried unconvincingly to defend himself against allegations of liaison with gold smugglers and nepotism in projects of the state assembly at a hurriedly called press conference, which was likened by the opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala to a farewell speech.
The press meet was called in the wake of charges by Chennithala of arbitrarily awarding lucrative contracts to the ruling party’s favoured Uralunkal workers society without calling for tenders. It was followed by a statement by the Speaker a day earlier, denying any role in gold smuggling and reverse havala through the diplomatic channel, as alleged by state BJP chief K Surendran.
Surendran dropped the bomb shell as television channels have been speculating as to who could be the constitutional functionary mentioned by kingpin Swapna Suresh in her secret deposition before the court as aiding the clandestine operation.
Before he mentioned Sreeramakrishnan by name, he had suggested that constitutional functionary mentioned by Swapna had the god’s name. When pressed further, he sought to wriggle out saying that all Indian names were based on the names of god. But on Wednesday, he dropped all inhibitions and mentioned Sreeramakrishnan by name.
Surendran claimed that the large number of foreign trips that the Speaker had made, some in the company of Swapna Suresh, were suspicious and needed to be investigated.
The claim led to calls for the Speaker’s resignation as opposition leaders asserted that it was the first time in the history of Indian democracy that an assembly speaker was allegedly involved in such anti-national activities. Sreeramakrishnan is a disgrace to the people of Kerala, they claimed.
In his press conference, the Speaker said the society chosen for the award of the deals had an impeccable record with the state government and that the contracts were vetted by various committees of the assembly, which also had members of the opposition parties.
He refuted the charges of wasteful expenditures, asserting that the events organised by the state assembly had brought prestige to the state as these were pioneering efforts.
He repeated his claim that he had in no way extended any help to Swapna Suresh and company, although he knew her personally. Like everyone else, he was also shocked to hear about her involvement in the crime, he added. He denied that he had either travelled with Swapna Suresh or met her on his tours.
But the speaker’s body language appeared to give himself away, which, together with the second consecutive post-Covid hospitalisation of CM’s private secretary Raveendran, gave the opposition much reason for celebration on the second leg of local body elections. The high turn-out of voters had all the fronts in a jiffy, as they were not sure about the implications.
C M Raveendran, who was supposed to present himself before the Enforcement Directorate on Thursday, instead sent an email, seeking two more weeks’ time, citing severe head and neck pain.
Opposition leaders claimed that Raveendran’s ‘forced’ headache was meant to shield chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan from the prying eyes of the investigating agencies as they believe that the secretary’s questioning would invariably lead to the CM.