ILL OMEN FOR CHANDY
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.