The gold smuggling case in Thiruvananthapuram has triggered massive protests by opposition parties in Kerala, some of which have now turned violent.
Protest marches on Friday, 10 July by the Muslim Youth League and Yuva Morcha to the Kozhikode Collectorate and by Youth Congress to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s residence in Pinarayi, Kannur, turned violent on Friday.
Police used many rounds of tear gas and water cannons to clear the crowds who kept marching and tried to break through barricades.
Visuals from the protests show Youth Congress cadres in Kannur marching together and raising slogans demanding the Chief Minister’s resignation. The Kannur protest march was inaugurated by former General Secretary of the Youth Congress and current Palakkad MLA Shafi Parambil along with Member of Parliament K Sudhakaran.
After K Sudhakaran left, the workers burnt effigies of the Chief Minister and Swapna Suresh - one of the accused in the case - and then tried to march to the CM’s house. The march was stopped a kilometre away from the Chief Minister’s residence.
After protests turned violent, Youth Congress leaders had to request the gathered protesters to return home. Though Sudhakaran has reportedly said in his speech that the protest would be held keeping in mind physical distancing, it ended in chaos soon after.
Two marches to the Kozhikode Collectorate turned violent on Friday morning. First, the police lathi-charged Muslim Youth League members who tried to break barricades. Later, by noon, Yuva Morcha members tried to march to the Collectorate. This time tear gas shells and stun grenades were used by the police and according to reports a few of the protesters were injured.
Congress leader Mullapally Ramachandran meanwhile accused the BJP of soft pedalling on the issue and helping the CPI(M). “This Swapna is only a small fish, there are bigger names involved. The CM office however has to answer why the CM’s most trusted bureaucrat- Sivasankar- was in touch with her and how much he helped her,” he told the media.
The protests have been triggered by the gold smuggling case where 30 kilograms of smuggled gold was found in a diplomatic baggage at the Thiruvananthapuram airport. Even as the customs department is quizzing several persons linked to the case, allegations emerged against Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s Principal Secretary M Sivasankar IAS that he was close to one of the accused in the case - Swapna Suresh. The Opposition has been demanding that the chief minister ask for a CBI probe.
On Monday, Sivasankar was removed from his post as the IT Secretary and Principal Secretary to Kerala CM.
Meanwhile, these protests are happening at a time when Kerala is seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases. Kannur presently has 650 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and 51 containment zones. Meanwhile Kozhikode has reported 370 cases of the virus with two containment zones.
Though some of the protesting groups claimed that they had secured permission to conduct protests, the violence and chaos that was witnessed in many districts during the protests can create further problems during the pandemic.
(The story has been published in an arrangement with The News Minute.)
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