| It had begun as a routine innocuous raid on video shops in the state to check the increasing piracy of Malayalam films. But as the raid, led by the state police's Anti-Piracy Wing, reached video recording facility Riyan Studio, all hell broke loose. For, the high-tech studio in Kochi is owned by IPS officer Tomin J. Thachankari's wife. Thachankari is the managing director of the Kerala Books and Periodicals Society and is known to be close to the anti-Achuthanandan camp. Neena Rebeiro from the Delhi-based Anti-Piracy Association, who was with the raid team, was denied entry into the studio by its staff. Within hours of the raid, Inspector General of Police (IGP) Rishi Raj Singh, the nodal officer in charge of the wing, was discharged of his duties by an urgent fax message from Director-General of Police Raman Srivastava. The DGP asked Singh to stop the raids and hand over the charge to another officer. What ensued was a standoff between Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan and Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. This has once again exposed the huge chinks in the CPI(M) armour and brought to question the survival of the six-month-old Government as the issue has been used by Achuthanandan to retaliate against his rivals led by party state Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan. To add to the internecine squabbles, the Nationalist Congress Party, one of the eight constituents of the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), has been shown the door for merging with the Democratic Indira Congress (Karunakaran). |
| Was denied a poll ticket initially |
His Cabinet is crowded by rivals
He was denied key home portfolio
All posts in the government and the party have gone to his rival campers
His loyalists have been kept out
PROJECTS IN LIMBO
Rs 4,000-cr Vallarpadam trans-shipment terminal
Rs 1,600-cr Kochi city project
Rs 3,000-cr container terminal in Thiruvananthapuram
Rs 2,500-cr Kochi LNG project
Rs 1,600-cr transport project
As the issue hit headlines the next morning with suggestions of A.K.G. Centre's-CPI(M) state headquarters-involvement, Achuthanandan summoned Srivastava to his residence and gave him a heavy dressing down. "I asked the DGP how dare he bring his and the Government's name to such disrepute. I gave him orders to immediately reinstate the IGP who had only done a good job and report back to me in two hours," revealed an unusually candid chief minister to the media before leaving for Delhi to attend the National Development Council meeting. Despite an ultimatum of two hours, the DGP did not give the reinstatement orders for the IGP even after two days. On December 9, Achuthanandan told the media in Delhi that he would take action against the DGP for the delay in implementing his order. He also divulged that despite his repeated efforts from Delhi through telephone he could not get the state home minister to discuss the issue.
Things refused to move as Additional DGP Rajan Madhekar, who replaced Singh, kept issuing orders regarding the raids while the latter cooled his heels. Meanwhile, Balakrishnan gave clear signals of the differences in the Government and the CPI(M) over the issue. Although the home minister said he too was not aware of Singh's removal, he defended the DGP. "The DGP had acted within the powers vested in him."
| PICTURE SPEAK |
IN THE THICK OF BATTLE: The Riyan Studio in Kochi
"Recent incidents show the LDF regime could also be corrupt."
V.S. ACHUTHANANDAN, CHIEF MINISTER
On December 10, the chief minister met Balakrishnan in Mumbai at the inauguration of the Kerala House. Before the function began, both remained locked in a 20-minute closed-door discussion inside the posh Maharaja Suite. Hours later, orders were issued in Thiruvananthapuram from police headquarters reinstating the IGP to his previous post. Clearly, the DGP kept sitting on the chief minister's oral orders awaiting Balakrishnan's instructions. Said the DGP: "The earlier order removing the IGP from his post was because as a nodal officer, he had no authority to conduct the raids." Immediately after his reinstatement, the IGP ordered further raids on Riyan and other studios across the state. More than 7,000 VCDs were seized in three days. However, Riyan's management has stated that no pirated CD was found in its studio. "The Anti-Piracy Association, a private agency, has no right to enter our studios. We didn't prevent the police team," said Riyan officials.
Video piracy issue apart, the differences between Achuthanandan and his rivals in the CPI(M) are growing at a frenetic pace even as the party and the CPI are at loggerheads over the former's "big brother" tactics. Ever since Achuthanandan was made the chief minister against the state leadership's wishes, it has missed no chance to marginalise the veteran in the party. Besides crowding the Cabinet with its own campers, the official camp has filled every post with its own people in the party and the Government rendering the chief minister practically immobile. Disciplinary action has been initiated against staunch Achuthanandan loyalists including those who opposed the State Committee's original decision not to field him as a candidate. The latest blow was the sacking of Achuthanandan camp's No. 2, N.N. Krishnadas, MP, from the committee. Action too is on the anvil against some other chief minister loyalists.
As pressures like these kept mounting and his camp was under threat of decimation, thanks to the rivals' carrot-and-stick tactics, Achuthanandan kept waiting for an opportunity to unleash a counter-offensive. The video piracy issue provided him the first chance to retaliate as Thachankari is close to his real targets in the party. "The Thachankari incident indicates the LDF Government could also fall into corrupt ways like the previous UDF government," the chief minister minced no words.
With no end to the fracas within the CPI(M) and also the LDF in sight, a number of developmental projects (see box) have come to a grinding halt and bureaucrats have switched over to an idle mode, lest they upset mutually-warring multiple power centres. There sure is some sparkle left in the fireworks in Kerala's ruling front.