Kerala Gold Scam: UDF boycotts Loka Kerala Sabha

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan calls the opposition shunning the non-Keralite residents' meet 'undemocratic and absurd'.

ByAshfaque EJ

Published Jun 19, 2022 | 9:42 AMUpdatedJul 21, 2022 | 5:32 PM

Loka Kerala Sabha for NRI Keralites held at Thiruvananthapuram from 16-18 June, 2022

The United Democratic Front (UDF), the Opposition front of Kerala, boycotted the third Loka Kerala Sabha — the state’s prestigious global event for the non-resident Keralites — held at Thiruvananthapuram from 16-18 June.

The main opposition, the Congress, said that the move was in protest of the alleged police atrocities against its activists for agitating against Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in the wake of the allegations against him in the gold smuggling case.

The allegations surfaced after the revelations of the key accused, Swapna Suresh, linked Vijayan and his wife to the case.

The Loka Kerala Sabha is a world conference launched by the Kerala government to integrate the welfare of expatriates from the state and its development activities.

The three-day conference discussed issues like women and migration, knowledge economy, non-resident Keralites’ investment in the building of a new Kerala, and the future of migration and employment.

‘Heartless to boycott expatriates’

Speaking at the closing ceremony on 18 June, Vijayan said the decision of the Opposition to boycott the conference was undemocratic and absurd.

“What kind of democratic values did the Opposition have? People who boycott the expatriates are heartless. Those with a good intention must cooperate with this event,” he said.

However, UDF convenor MM Hassan said that another reason for them to boycott the event was the indifference of the government to the queries and suggestions of Opposition leader VD Satheesan regarding the opportunities and benefits to the expatriates from the last two conferences held in 2018 and 2020.

NoRKA rubbishes ‘extravagance’ allegations

On the other hand, NRI entrepreneur and Non-resident Keralite Affairs (NoRKA)-Roots Chairman MA Yusuff Ali criticised the Opposition for boycotting the conference and calling it an extravagant event.

“Leaders from all parties are treated well when they visit foreign countries. The members of the Loka Kerala Sabha arrived here (at Thiruvananthapuram) to attend the conference by spending money from their pockets. What extravagance are you talking about? Is it giving them accommodation and food? Please don’t hurt the expatriates by unnecessary things,” he said at the inaugural session of the conference.

In response, Satheeshan said the criticism by Ali was unfortunate.

“We had told Yusuff Ali that we are not attending the conference due to political reasons. We told him that we were uncomfortable sharing the stage with the chief minister when CPM activists were attacking our activists and vandalising our party offices,” he told reporters.

Youth Congress leader and Palakkad MLA Shafi Parambil told South First that the state government was portraying the criticism against it as criticism against the expatriates.

UDF allies attend meet

“The opposition parties had always worked for the welfare of the expatriates. During the Covid-19 period, while the government failed to provide travel fares for the Gulf Malayalis, it was the expatriate association linked with the UDF such as INCAS, KMCC, and OICC that provided chartered flights for the expatriates. Total betrayal of the expatriate community is the trademark of this government,” Parambil said.

BJP leader and Union Minister of State for External Affairs & Parliamentary Affairs V Muraleedharan also boycotted the conference, citing Vijayan’s alleged involvement in the gold smuggling case.

Both Muraleedharan and Satheeshan were invited to the inaugural session by Kerala Legislative Assembly speaker MB Rajesh.

Expatriate organisations associated with the UDF attended the meeting.

The Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre (KMCC), an expatriate organisation associated with Indian Union Muslim League, congratulated the chief minister for organising the event.

Vijayan did not attend the inaugural function due to medical reasons. Minutes before the event, it was announced that he would not be attending as he was unwell and the doctors had advised him to take rest for a day.

Rejimon Kuttappan, the author of the book Undocumented: Stories of Indian Migrants in the Arab Gulf, called the Loka Kerala Sabha the Loka Pranchi Sabha, wherein Pranchi is a sarcastic expression denoting the rich.

“Out of the 182 non-resident Keralite representatives, at least 170 people are businessmen with a turnover ranging from ₹50 crore to ₹50,000 crore. For them, this is a venue for business networking and political influences. This year, a domestic worker got invited as a representative at the conference. She was treated as a showpiece and her representation was celebrated by the progressive left-liberals as an act of inclusivity,” Kuttappan told South First.