ILL OMEN FOR CHANDY

India Today - - NATION - By M. G. Rad­hakr­ish­nan and J. Bin­duraj Fol­low the writer on Twit­ter @ MGRKr­ish­nan

Is Ker­ala’s ad­min­is­tra­tion func­tion­ing only to serve the mafia? Does this mere po­lice con­sta­ble think he is the chief min­is­ter? Why should peo­ple be so afraid of him? Is even the state DGP scared of this po­lice­man? What kind of democ­racy is this?’’

Th­ese were some of the re­marks the Ker­ala High Court made on Oc­to­ber 1 when it slammed the Oom­men Chandy gov­ern­ment for its acts in a multi- crore- ru­pee land grab case.

But the man who trig­gered the court’s ire, 42- year- old Salim Raj, is not just another lathi- wield­ing con­sta­ble. Of­fi­cially, he was Chief Min­is­ter Oom­men Chandy’s gun­man for the last eight years. Un­of­fi­cially, he was one of Chandy’s clos­est aides who was of­ten the key point of ac­cess to the Chief Min­is­ter, un­til Chandy eased him out af­ter he courted scan­dals and cases rang­ing from the still sim­mer­ing so­lar scam to al­leged land grab­bing and an at­tempted ab­duc­tion.

Till he was sus­pended, Raj was so close to Chandy’s shadow that even the lat­ter’s Cab­i­net col­leagues had to call up the gun­man if they wanted to get through to the Chief Min­is­ter, more so be­cause Chandy did not carry a mo­bile phone. The other man known to be close to Chandy was Tenny Jop­pan, his per­sonal as­sis­tant for eight years, an ac­cused in the so­lar scam. The scam re­volved around Saritha Nair and her accomplices who had of­fered to set up so­lar pan­els or eq­ui­ties in non- ex­is­tent so­lar and wind farms, in which many vic­tims lost crores of ru­pees. Chandy sus­pended the duo from his staff on June 14. But while the Spe­cial In­ves­ti­ga­tion Team prob­ing the scam ar­rested Jop­pan, Raj was left touched.

Mean­while, two fam­i­lies in Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram were pur­su­ing pe­ti­tions they had handed to the Chief Min­is­ter, po­lice and rev­enue of­fi­cials, al­leg­ing that Raj had been try­ing to mus­cle his way into their prime prop­er­ties. One of them, Prem­c­hand Nair, a for­mer Mer­chant Navy cap­tain, and his sib­lings moved the Ker­ala High Court al­leg­ing Raj and his accomplices were try­ing to grab 12 acres of land they owned and that both gov­ern­ment and po­lice had ig­nored the com­plaint. A day af­ter the court heard their pe­ti­tion and or­dered the im­me­di­ate seizure of Raj’s mo­bile phone records, state Ad­vo­cate Gen­eral K. P. Dan­da­pani moved the court’s di­vi­sion bench and got the or­der stayed, ar­gu­ing this would be an invasion of Raj’s pri­vacy.

On Oc­to­ber 1, the court al­lowed the gov­ern­ment a fi­nal ex­ten­sion of time till Oc­to­ber 9 to re­spond to the pe­ti­tion of four other land- grab vic­tims from Kala­massery— N. A. Shareefa, her sons A. K. Nasser and Noushad A. K., and daugh­ter- in- law Shimitha. The court also rub­bished the de­fence coun­sel’s claim that state DGP K. S. Bala­sub­ra­ma­nian had handed the pe­ti­tion against Raj to the gov­ern­ment. “Why did the DGP pass on the com­plaint in­stead of ask­ing his po­lice to in­ves­ti­gate? Is even the DGP scared of this mere con­sta­ble?” Jus­tice Harun Al Rasheed asked.

“The ad­vo­cate gen­eral should be ashamed to have ap­peared for a crim- inal. But he was ob­vi­ously com­pelled by Salim Raj’s links with Chandy. Salim Raj was not just Chandy’s gun­man, he was his gun mon,” Op­po­si­tion leader V. S. Achuthanan­dan said. Mon means son in Malay­alam. P. C. Ge­orge, the gov­ern­ment chief whip, was equally vo­cal and even de­clared that Home Min­is­ter Thiru­van­choor Rad­hakr­ish­nan should take moral re­spon­si­bil­ity and quit.

Raj has also been ac­cused in an ab­duc­tion bid. Lo­cals caught and handed Raj and his hench­men to the po­lice on Septem­ber 10 af­ter they al­legedly tried to kid­nap a cou­ple on the Na­tional High­way by­pass at Kozhikode. The po­lice first booked them on petty charges but charged them with at­tempt to abduct and mur­der af­ter a pub­lic outcry, fi­nally send­ing Raj to jail.

Balu Subramaniam, who holds the power of at­tor­ney for his friend Prem­c­hand Nair, now an invalid, says Nair wanted to mort­gage his land for a bank loan in March 2012, only to find out that some­one had al­ready staked

claim on it. It was ap­par­ent that rev­enue doc­u­ments had been al­tered.

In Novem­ber 2012, Dr Ashokan, Chandy’s physi­cian, rang up Balu ask­ing him to meet Raj. Balu says the doc­tor told him that he also owned some land in the ‘ dis­puted’ area and the meet­ing was set up to sort things out. Raj, his brother- in- law Ab­dul Ma­jid and ac­com­plice Jayaram met Balu and threat­ened him. Balu was threat­ened twice more, af­ter which Raj and his men told him they would leave him alone if Nair would part with 50 per cent of the land, which is worth a few hun­dred crores. When he re­fused, they scaled down the de­mand to 40 per cent and then fi­nally to 10 per cent, which was also re­jected. The men then told Balu to

Ker­ala Chief Min­is­ter Oom­men Chandy rides out the ar­rest of one of his aides in a bla­tant dis­play of ar­ro­gance even as Congress has no al­ter­na­tive but to back him

be ready to face the con­se­quences.

Balu pe­ti­tioned the lo­cal po­lice, com­plained to the rev­enue min­is­ter and then the Chief Min­is­ter, who di­rected it to the dis­trict col­lec­tor. He then pe­ti­tioned the DGP and the state chief sec­re­tary. Fi­nally, the po­lice sum­moned him and Raj’s men, but noth­ing came of it. Af­ter the lo­cal me­dia re­ported the story, a Rev­enue In­tel­li­gence probe re­ported that the land still be­longed to the le­git­i­mate own­ers. But the lo­cal vil­lage of­fice con­tin­ued to refuse a pos­ses­sion cer­tifi­cate and Balu moved the high court for his friend.

Amid all this— and while also try­ing to cope with the heat of the so­lar scam— Chandy claims he did no wrong. “I have not tried to help Salim Raj. If I did, would

The ad­vo­cate gen­eral should be ashamed to have ap­peared for a crim­i­nal. But Salim Raj was not just Chandy’s gun­man, he was his gun mon ( mon means son in Malay­alam).

V. S. Achuthanan­dan, Op­po­si­tion leader

the po­lice have put such se­ri­ous charges on him?” he told IN­DIA TO­DAY. But there are many scep­tics in the rul­ing United Demo­cratic Front ( UDF) coali­tion. Se­nior party col­league K. Mu­raleed­ha­ran has minced no words while de­rid­ing both Chandy and Rad­hakr­ish­nan.

Chandy’s re­fusal to back down may have a lot to do with the fact that nei­ther Congress nor UDF has an al­ter­na­tive to match his po­lit­i­cal and so­cial stature. His party ri­val and state Congress chief Ramesh Chen­nithala is not as pow­er­ful as Chandy in the party or the coali­tion. The A fac­tion of Congress, which Chandy leads, as op­posed to Chen­nithala’s I fac­tion, has been dom­i­nat­ing the party since K. Karunakaran’s death. But Chandy’s big­gest ad­van­tage has been the cru­cial back­ing he has of Union De­fence Min­is­ter A. K. Antony and Union Over­seas Af­fairs Min­is­ter Vay­alar Ravi. CPI( M), the lead­ing op­po­si­tion, is too caught up in its own fac­tional fights to ben­e­fit from Congress’ woes.

OOM­MEN CHANDY

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