Palora Matha was an illiterate poor woman who belonged to Chombal village in Kozhikode district of north Kerala. She was unaware of the importance of a newspaper in the growth of a Communist Party. But Matha donated a calf, her only valuable possession, to the legendary Marxist EMS Namboodiripad to start the Communist Party’s mouthpiece Desabhimani in the early 1940s.
Desabhimani had humble beginnings and it was the soul of EMS for decades. It may be a matter of paradox that the very day the CPM state committee decided to expel Desabhimani deputy general manager K. Venugopal from the party and the newspaper for accepting a bribe of Rs 1 crore from a private financial firm, the party state chief Pinarayi Vijayan was laying the foundation stone for a multi-storeyed headquarters for the newspaper in Thiruvananthapuram. The newspaper, which owns five independent printing centres, has already a full- fledged office at the heart of the state capital. The newspaper sources were tightlipped over the price of the prime land at Aristo Junction and the estimated cost of the new building. Stories doing the rounds in the party corridors say that the new headquarters’ estimate is over Rs 10 crore. Party sources also revealed that Vijayan is visualising a tower quite similar to Express towers in Mumbai.
A protégé of Vijayan, Venugopal had accepted the bribe from a businessman, promising help in hushing up a financial scam which involved crores of public money. The businessman, PV Chacko, was hauled up on charges of cheating and violating the Prize Chits & Money Circulation Scheme (Banning), Act 1978. Around 120 bank accounts of his company had been attached. Sources said Venugopal had agreed to return the money but the party secretariat asked the Desabhimani party unit to investigate the matter. The unit, headed by chief editor VV Dakshinamurthy, ordered his expulsion allegedly after he owned up to the charges.
Following the allegation, the party leadership had reportedly approached Chacko and returned the money. As a result, Chacko convened a press meet and declared that neither had he given money to any CPM leader nor to anybody in Desabhimani. With Chacko withdrawing the allegations, Venugopal and his bosses had nothing to fear!
However, within a week after Venugopal’s expulsion, Kerala’s second largest daily Mathrubhumi published some documents revealing Desabhimani’s acceptance of Rs 2 crore from Coimbatore-based lottery king Santiago Martin, who was accused of money laundering through lotteries. The revelation has put the CPM in a tight spot. The beleaguered party, finally, decided to return the money to Martin who is evading arrest in Tamil Nadu. Many say he is hiding in Singapore.
Party insiders suspect that it was Venugopal who had handed over the crucial documents to rival newspapers to blackmail his party bosses. By doing so, he clearly exposed the corrupt elements in the party. Venugopal hails from a traditional Communist family in Kannur and is the son of Marxist stalwart AK Gopalan’s elder brother. He reportedly possesses documentary evidence on a number of shadowy dealings of senior leaders, owing allegiance to Vijayan. Even though Desabhimani general manager EP Jayarajan repeatedly claims that the money from Martin was investment in bonds and advance for advertisements, it has now become clear that the money was Martin’s contribution to the construction of the new tower. Notably, CPM’s television channel Kairali is also erecting a multi-crore state-of-the-art building at a prime plot near the state Assembly in Thiruvananthapuram.
Now, Vijayan is spitting venom at Mathrubhumi daily for exposing the party. “Mathrubhumi has one Gopalakrishnan (its editor). He thinks if he writes something, the party will crumble down. It’s a yellow newspaper,” Vijayan said in a public meeting. Incidentally, Mathrubhumi managing director MP Veerendra Kumar is a Left Front Lok Sabha member from Kozhikode and his son MV Sreyams Kumar is an ldf mla in Kerala. In a bid to rein in Mathrubhumi, Desabhimani had published reports on Veerendra Kumar’s alleged land encroachments in Wayanad district in north Kerala. Ostensibly, Kumar’s family has huge land holdings and plantations in the district and his late father Padma Prabha Gowder was known as the architect of modern Wayanad. “What is now happening is an attempt to intimidate the newspaper. It’s highly objectionable,” said veteran journalist BRP Bhaskar.
It’s not for the first time Kerala CPM is receiving tainted money. During the 1996-2001 EK Nayanar regime, some of its leaders had accepted money from country liquor baron Manichan. Nayanar’s political secretary P. Sasi was under the shadow. Another strong Vijayan loyalist, Sasi is currently the CPM Kannur district secretary.
Later, the party expelled the then Thiruvananthapuram district secretary M. Sathyaneshan on that issue. However, there was no explanation from the party that Manichan had a stake in Kairali.
Recently, a vigilance team chargesheeted Kerala Police Inspector General Tomin J. Thachankary for amassing assets worth Rs 95 lakh, disproportionate to his known source of income. The alleged middleman in purchasing electronic equipment for Kairali from Singapore, Thachankary is the right-hand man of many CPM leaders. He runs a CD manufacturing unit in Kochi and it was in the eye of a storm when dgp Raman Srivastava ordered the removal of Inspector General Rishiraj Singh from the post of anti-piracy cell chief to avert a police raid there. Later, EP Jayarajan, at a public function, called Singh a “mad officer who destroyed the CD market for helping CD manufacturers like Moserbaer”. Though he has several godfathers, the state government suspended him on July 10.