Thrissur: Braving drizzle, residents lined up on either side of the road to see BJP Suresh Gopi walk from Karuvannur Service Cooperative Bank to Thrissur Municipal Corporation Office. He took out the 18-km march to protect the cooperative sector in Kerala (Sahakari Samrakshana Padayatra).
“It is a humanitarian cause,” bellowed the actor-cum-politician at the launch of the march at Karuvannur which is in the middle of a Rs 300-crore scam.
Around 8,000 to 9,000 BJP supporters, who joined the march, made a line that stretched for more than 2.5km.
Ambika, who was waiting for Suresh Gopi near Karuvannur bridge, said she would have joined the march if not for her aching legs. “I cannot walk, otherwise I would have joined him,” he said. Her nephew Arun K R joined a chit fund of Karuvannur Service Cooperative Bank, and his Rs 10 lakh is stuck there.
Chandran K K stood outside his tea shop to get a glimpse of Suresh Gopi. He is not a member of Karuvannur bank. He has parked his money in Panamkulam Ettumuna Co-operative Society Bank, 3km from Karuvannur. “There is no trouble in our bank. But I don’t know how long it will remain unaffected,” he said.
Pushpa Arjini (78) who was waiting at Panamkulam is also livid. “My son’s (Vishalakshan) Rs 6 lakh is also stuck with Karuvannur bank. I don’t know when we will get our money back,” she said.
There should be a clean-up of the sector, said Suresh Gopi at the launch of the march.
On the stage were portraits of former Congress panchayat members T M Mukundan, and Jose Alappadan, who ended their lives because of the scam; and Philomina Devasiya, Roy, and Raman Edachali, who lost their lives after the bank denied money for their treatment. Their relatives and another victim Sailakshmi joined Suresh Gopi on stage.
“I am not standing here with enthusiasm. Neither am I here to inject enthusiasm in you,” said Suresh Gopi.
The former BJP Rajya Sabha member said the trouble in Kerala’s cooperative banks started with demonetised Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes in 2016. “Then the Chief Minister and his team, including John Britas, met the then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on the instruction of the Prime Minister. The chief minister wanted a compromise. I was in the office then,” he said.
Suresh Gopi said CPM leader John Britas later took him to the Chief Minister. “Today’s protest is a culmination of what I then strictly told the chief minister. The fire on Hanuman’s tail will spread to Kannur, Mavelikara, Kandala, Malappuram,” he said, referring to the scams in cooperative societies in these places. At the culmination of the march, he said he would take the protest against the corruption in cooperative sectors to these places and Idukki and Kasaragod, too. “Poor people were cheated and their money robbed in Mavelikkara by promising them exorbitant interest,” he said.
He said the robbers who looted people’s money from cooperative banks should be wiped out for their criminal betrayal.
He said the government should find a fast solution to the problems being faced by the cooperative sector. “Else you will not just lose your sleep but your bed too,” he said at the culmination of the march.
‘People exposed the scam, not ED’
Pinarayi Vijayan-led government’s solution to the scam at Karuvannur Service Cooperative Bank will drown the entire cooperative sector, said BJP state president K Surendran.
The government is trying to bail out the bank by pooling money from other cooperative banks instead of digging out the illegal wealth amassed by the accused, he said.
Surendran was speaking after inaugurating BJP leader Suresh Gopi’s Sahakari Samrakshana Padayatra (Cooperative Sector Protection March) from Karuvannur Bank to Thrissur Municipal Corporation office — a distance of 18 km — on Monday, October 2.
Kerala Police’s Crime Branch and central agency Enforcement Directorate (ED) are investigating the CPM-controlled cooperative bank and its employees for financial irregularities pegged at around Rs 300 crore. The ED has arrested Wadakanchery Municipal councillor P R Aravindakshan, former chief accountant Gilse C K, private financier and first accused P Satheesh Kumar, and second accused Kiran P P. Aravindakshan is considered as a confidant of A C Moideen, veteran leader of the CPM and former minister for Cooperation.
Surendran said the Crime Branch should identify and recover the illegal wealth amassed by A C Moideen, Aravindakshan, Satheeshan, and Kiran and return the money to the members of the cooperative bank.
He said the BJP organised the march not to destroy the cooperative sector as alleged by the Chief Minister but to strengthen it and bring transparency to the sector. “The cooperative sector grew in Kerala not because of the investment of Adani and Ambani but because of the blood and sweat of ordinary people such as daily wage labourers, autorickshaw drivers, teachers, and pensioners,” he said. “You robbed their money and made them homeless,” he said.
Surendran said the scam was brought to light not by the BJP or the ED but by the members of the bank. They filed their complaint first with the CPM and the chief minister. “They instituted an inquiry and the committee found the culprits but no action was taken because their leaders would be trapped,” he said.
After that, the cooperative bank members filed their complaint with the Crime Branch. The accused who were picked up by the ED were identified by the Crime Branch, he said. Pinarayi Vijayan’s Crime Branch confined the list of accused to bank employees to protect party leaders, he said.