Gold smuggling: Left govt on the backfoot in Kerala after Sivasankar's arrest

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Thiruvananthapuram, Oct 29 (PTI): The arrest of suspended IAS officer M Sivasankar by the Enforcement Directorate has put the Left Democratic Front government and the CPI(M) in Kerala in a spot at a time when the state is getting ready for the crucial local body and assembly polls.

The Left party and its leaders cannot simply wash their hands off the development by saying Sivasankar, said to be a close confidant of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and once the most influential official in the CMO, was just one among the several civil service officers in the state cadre, according to political observers.

Sivasankar, the former principal secretary to Vijayan, was on Wednesday arrested by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with the controversial gold smuggling case, after over six hours of interrogation by the ED, probing the money trail in the case.

The case and the allegations against the Chief Minister's office has cropped up at a time when the left front was all confident of returning to power in the assembly polls due early next year and showcase good performance in the civic body elections in December,banking on itsperformance during its four and half year reign.

The arrest has given the opposition- Congress and BJP- an unexpected political weapon to attack Vijayan, heading the lone Communist government in the country, which has claimed to have implemented several people-friendly initiatives.

Since the beginning, the opposition parties have been targeting the Chief Minister using Sivasankar, said to be his most trustworthy officer, to point fingers at the Marxist veteran and demand his resignation.

While serving as the principal secretary to Vijayan, the officer had the power to take crucial administrative decisions and advise the Chief Minister on important policy matters and he might have misused it for unlawful activities, the opposition alleged.

It might be for the first time in the country that a serving IAS officer, that too holding a key position in the CMO, has been arrested by a national agency for allegedly getting involved in a crime like smuggling, they said.

With the arrest of Sivasankar, both the BJP and Congress have intensified their demand for Vijayan's resignation taking moral responsibility for the alleged wrongdoings by the official in his office.

Demanding his resignation, they said Vijayan cannot not run away from the moral responsibility of his office's involvement in 'unlawful activities.' The Congress has already announced state-wide protests demanding his resignation and Youth Congress activists took out a march to the Cliff House here, the official residence of Chief Minister, Thursday morning.

Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president Mullappally Ramachandran said the Chief Minister had given Sivasankar all powers and freedom and his arrest was equivalent to the arrest of Vijayan.

BJP leader and Union Minister V Muraleedharan said Vijayan should tender an apology to the people of the state.

Vijayan, who had supported Sivasankar in the initial days when the controversy broke, had recently said 'let the probe go ahead in the right direction and the wrongdoers be punished.' The CPI(M)'s stand was that Sivasankar was no longer part of the government as he was suspended and removed from the post he held as soon as the allegations had cropped up.

They also have a view that the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre was using the central agencies to take political revenge against the governments in non-BJP ruled states.

Brushing aside the demand for the Chief Minister's resignation, senior CPI(M) leader M Govindan Master on Thursday said there was no need for him to quit over the issue.

'The CM has already revealed his stand and welcomed any kind of probe.Sivasankar was removed from his position, as soon as the charges were raised against him.

Let the probe and the legal proceedings continue..

it is not a matter of any concern to us,' he told reporters.

When contacted, Kanam Rajendran, the CPI state secretary, told PTI that his party would discuss the latest development at the next LDF meeting.

'I do not want to make any open comment on the arrest of M Sivasankar right now.Anyway, we will discuss this within the LDF,' he said.

Political observers feel that the upcoming polls won't be a cakewalk for the ruling front in the wake of the row.

It will also not be easy for the left party and the front to justify itselfas it had staged protests during the tenure of the previous Congress-led United Democratic Front ministry, demanding resignation of the then Chief Minister Oommen Chandy when allegations had cropped up against his office in connection with the solar scam.PTI LGK UD BN WELCOME BN WELCOME