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“Deception lands Kerala Government in Soup”

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Monson Mavunkal duped a number of people in Kerala and his proximity with top politicians and bureaucrats in the state is giving a new headache to Pinarayi Vijayan. The Congress and the BJP are relentless in attacking the LDF left, right and centre.

By ACHYUT NATH JHA


Kerala — one of the southernmost states of India, popularly called ‘God’s Own Country’ — is currently hogging the limelight for the wrong reasons these days. Although people in Kerala are familiar to scams and frauds of various types which are brought to the surface at regular intervals, this is probably for the first time that they have heard of the deception attempted by a self-styled antique dealer named Monson Mavunkal who has now been taken into custody after one of his victims decided to approach the state police. 

The Left Democratic Front (LDF) government which got re-elected with a thumping majority just recently is facing mammoth criticism from all corners for the gold smuggling scandal, mishandling of Covid and rising Islamic radicalisation. Monson Mavunkal’s arrest on the charges of cheating, extortion and allegedly swindling Rs 24 crore from multiple persons is creating a political upheaval for Pinarayi Vijayan. 

Monson Mavunkal, the Conman

Mavunkal presented himself as an antiques’ collector and boasted about his contacts with big shots to lure people who walked into his trap. Impressed by his mannerisms, the victims loaned him crores of rupees without asking for any security. The police have now found in the investigations as to how Mavunkal had established his VIP friends’ circle that included Kerala’s top police officers, politicians, film stars and bureaucrats. He used this very circle to cheat others. 

Even as the police are yet to find if there is any proof of collusion, investigators have now found evidence for conman’s closeness to several prominent personalities, including lead actors, politicians and senior government officials. In the pictures doing the rounds, superstar Mohanlal, popular singer M.G. Sreekumar, Congress President K Sudhakaran, current Ministers Roshi Augustine and Ahammed Devarkovil, Inspector General of Police Lakshman Gugulloth and former Deputy Inspector General of Police S Surendran can be seen posing with Mavunkal.

Mavunkal moved to Kochi a few years ago and transformed his large rented house into a museum for antiques. It is now found that the collection of so-called rare antiques are actually fake. 

On his website, he describes himself as a peace promoter, philanthropist, educationist and motivational speaker. Congress leader Sudhakaran, now claims that he met Mavunkal under the impression that he was a cosmetologist. 

Needless to say, Mavunkal flaunted his proximity to those who matter, the who's who in different fields, and offered his guests partnership in his ‘planned' museum’. Experts say that the ‘antiques’ Mavunkal presented would normally make one suspicious. 

Interestingly, despite having a huge collection of valuable artefacts, he did not have any documents proving their age or ownership. Further investigations into this case revealed that for several years, Mavunkal carefully cultivated influence to rake in the moolah. Nothing can be more hilarious than this – he sold a walking cane as the ‘Staff of Moses,’ small earthen pots as Lord Krishna's favourite “dahi handi” and paintings by someone in Kochi as Pablo Picasso's art. 

Commotion in Kerala Politics

As expected, the whole saga of Mavunkal’s duping in fake artefacts dealing created commotion in Kerala politics. On October 5, Kerala Assembly witnessed some angry scenes after Mavunkal was arrested and his entire gamut was exposed. The UDF saw it as an opportunity to bash the government as Mavunkal built his circle mostly around Left politicians and bureaucrats. 

Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) staged a walkout from the state assembly alleging that chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who is heading the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), was protecting top police officials who had nexus with Mavunkal. Senior Congress leader and Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, Satheesan held that there was an intelligence report in 2019 about the illegal dealings of the conman and a comprehensive report was also submitted subsequently. Satheesan further said that the police commissioner who used to visit the conman in personal capacity continues to be at the helm of affairs when the investigation is on. He said that such an investigation is under suspicion. 

The UDF also alleged that Mavunkal had tried to dupe people regarding the rituals at the Sabarimala Lord Ayyappa Temple using a fabricated 'chembola' (a copper manuscript) and the Marxist party government allegedly had a role in it. 

The BJP is not too far in cornering the Kerala government. State’s party President K Surendran has said that it may be possible that the Pinarayi Vijayan government may have used the Mavunkal to create trouble in Sabarimala temple. The conman had the 'chembola' copper inscription which he said is from the famous temple and a deciphering of it discloses that even women can worship in the shrine. The saffron party said that Vijayan or his people may have used the conman to create confusion in the minds of devotees and further the unrest. Surendran demanded an impartial inquiry in the Sabarimala matter. 

BJP General Secretary B Gopalakrishnan has demanded action against everybody who was in touch with the conman. “The Home Department became an 'antique department' and even the office of the Chief Minister is now under a cloud,” he said. 

Vijayan, however, denied opposition's allegations and said that the police investigation in the case is progressing. The Chief Minister also denied the opposition's allegation that the government supported those who tried to deceive the people. He defended the police stating that an intelligence report was sought on Mavunkal in 2019 itself by the former police chief Loknath Behera. Vijayan also added that if any police officials are found to have done anything illegal, the state government won't resist taking action.

The opposition does not want to miss the opportunity to bash the government as there were already 14 FIRs against the conman for crimes like cheating, forgery, criminal intimidation, impersonation and so on. The uproar in the State Assembly was a natural outcome of the observation made by the High Court on the same day. Justice Devan who was hearing the matter had reprimanded the state police by observing that how can a proper investigation in the matter be carried out when the same head of the department was also seen with the accused Mavunkal. The court questioned the crime branch too. 

Yet another crisis for the Vijayan government

Now the moot question is: How did a person like Mavunkal manage to cheat crores of rupees from numerous people across the state? With the emergence of various reports in the media, it is evident that top police officers and other powerful persons were in cahoots with the conman to keep him informed about the complaints against him. 

Now credible reports have begun to come up suggesting that Mavunkal had used his high-level connections to threaten the petitioners and hush up cases. Behera, Managing Director of Kochi Metro, who retired as state DGP in June this year, had visited Mavunkal’s home along with Additional DGP Manoj Abraham in June 2019 and posed for photographs. Needless to say, these very photographs of senior Kerala Police officials have come back to bite not just the department but the entire Kerala government. 

The Chief Minister himself has to come out openly to defend the former top cop even though his photos sitting on the so-called ‘Tipu Sultan’s throne’ is still circulating.

Political observers are of the view that Mavunkal’s arrest is yet another crisis for the Vijayan government. Last year, LDF government suffered serious embarrassment in a gold smuggling case when the CM's principal secretary was arrested in a case of gold smuggling through diplomatic channels. It is to be seen how the veteran Marxist, Pinarayi Vijayan, at the helm of affairs manages the Mavunkal case and protects his government’s credibility. 

Meanwhile, the storm doesn’t seem to be fading away as the Congress MLA PT Thomas has moved an adjournment motion in the house to discuss the matter further.

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