Kerala: Rahul Gandhi set for three-day visit to Wayanad constituency
Rahul Gandhi will visit his constituency in Kerala’s Wayanad on a three-day tour beginning June 30, the Congress announced on Saturday as it cranked up its movement against the ruling Left for the SFI’s vandalism of the leader’s office.
The Congress also punched holes into the attackers’ claim of inaction by citing letters Rahul had written to Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking their intervention and drawing their attention to the concerns raised by residents that the declaration of buffer zones around national parks and wildlife reserves would displace them and play havoc with their life and livelihood.
While Rahul, who represents Wayanad in the Lok Sabha, was supposed to visit his constituency early this week, his plans had to be put on hold because of sustained questioning by the Enforcement Directorate in the National Herald money-laundering case.
But after the vandalism of his office, the Congress quickly charted a tour programme and announced that Rahul would arrive in Wayanad on Thursday to a massive welcome rally, attempting to mount pressure on the Left government and the CPM over the attack by party students’ union SFI.
Chief minister, Vijayan who was among the first to condemn the attack, is scheduled to hold a high-level meeting on Thursday to address the buffer zone issue that led to the protest and vandalism.
An SFI march against the alleged lack of involvement of Rahul in a crucial environment issue had turned violent on Friday with several protesters breaking open the shutters and using the windows to gain access to the office where they smashed furniture and framed photographs and planted an SFI flag.
The Supreme Court earlier this month mandated a 1km buffer area, or ecologically sensitive zone, around all national parks and wildlife reserves. While the order came in a Rajasthan-related case, it applies to all states. This has caused much concern in Kerala where Wayanad and Idukki districts skirt forests and the declaration of buffer zones would displace many people.
Congress politicians in Kerala told journalists on Saturday that Rahul had written to Vijayan and Modi, requesting them to address the issue as it would affect the life and livelihood of a large number of people.
Rahul wrote to Vijayan on June 8, within five days of the Supreme Court order. The chief minister replied on June 16. The Congress parliamentarian wrote to Prime Minister Modi on June 23, a day before the SFI protest.
Although the SFI and the CPM have tried to distance themselves from the attack and promised disciplinary action against the culprits, the Congress and its United Democratic Front allies have seen in this an opportunity to corner the state government. The UDF held a protest rally in Kalpetta, Wayanad, on Saturday.
Congress leaders accused Vijayan of using SFI cadres to carry out the attack to please Modi and the larger Sangh parivar. With central agencies still investigating a 2020 gold smuggling case and against the backdrop of a key accused alleging the involvement of Vijayan and his family members, Congress leaders attributed the attack on Rahul’s office to an attempt by the chief minister to strike a deal with the Sangh parivar to aid it politically and in the process extricate himself from the case.
The leader of the Opposition, V.D. Satheesan of the Congress, on Saturday visited the vandalised office where a partly damaged picture of Mahatma Gandhi was seen lying on the floor. “They (SFI) have done something that even the Sangh parivar will not do in Kerala,” Satheesan told reporters, referring to the destruction of the Gandhi portrait.
The Congress alleged the involvement of health minister Veena George’s personal staffer K.R. Avishith in the attack. Congress MLA Shafi Parambil said party workers would block roads whenever George would travel in the state. But the health minister said Avishith had resigned from her team in the beginning of June due to personal reasons.
Police have so far arrested 25 SFI workers in connection with the vandalism. While 19 of them were produced before a magistrate on Saturday and remanded in 14 days’ judicial custody, the remaining six were arrested on Saturday.
The CPM’s Kerala unit has summoned SFI national president V.P. Sanu and state chief K. Anushree to Thiruvananthapuram as part of its initiative to douse the raging fire over the vandalism. The SFI will shortly convene a meeting of the Wayanad district committee before deciding on disciplinary action against those who targeted Rahul’s office.