Minister Riyas has been Congress's favourite punching bag. Now, he hits back

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Thiruvananthapuram: Ever since the second Pinarayi Ministry assumed power, the Congress has treated PWD and tourism minister Mohammad Riyas as Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s proxy.
Ridicule is the Congress party’s weapon against Riyas. Its leaders have repeatedly attempted to project him as a nepo kid. Last March, for instance, opposition leader V D Satheean had called him a “management quota” product.

For the Congress, Riyas is not just the embodiment of what it calls Pinarayi’s selfish and autocratic ways. It also sees in Riyas’s seeming importance in the Pinarayi Cabinet just the right medicine in the Congress hands to induce resentment within the CPM. Satheesan had last year told Onmanorama that there was a “family conspiracy” to undermine Speaker A N Shamseer, considered Riyas’s equal in the party.
Nonetheless, over time, Riyas seems to have seen through the ploy. He has stopped responding to personal insults. And as witnessed in the Assembly on June 19, Riyas looks to have even developed a sharp skill to duck such barbs.

The occasion was the discussion on PWD and Tourism Department. Congress’s Chalakkudy MLA Saneesh Kumar Joseph was one of the speakers and it was clear right away that he was out to discredit Riyas.
“The only thing that happens in the PWD is the suspension of poor caretakers in the presence of news channels,” Saneesh said, referring to the highly publicised flash raids conducted by the minister. “And then of course, there is the minister’s official-private foreign jaunts with family members,” he said.

Saneesh had only begun. “By keeping even the excise minister in the dark, the tourism minister is trying to arrogate more powers to himself and position himself as a super minister,” Saneesh said, an allusion to the recent bar bribery charge in which it was said that the tourism minister had initiated a move to revise the excise policy.
Saneesh had ticked two boxes in the Congress’s anti-Riyas strategy. One, show Riyas as having outsize influence in the Cabinet. And two, sow seeds of discontent within the CPM.

There was more in Saneesh’s arsenal. He alleged that what was touted as Kerala’s first Tourism Investors Meet was nothing but a cover to transfer prime land in the possession of various government departments at throwaway leases to the real estate mafia in the name of tourism projects that did not have even a remote chance of taking off. “Neither MLAs nor even the Cabinet were consulted before these deals were made,” he said, once again a subtle cue for other ministers to feel deceived.

The Chalakkudy MLA also said that Riyas behaved as if he was a minister exclusively for Beypore, his constituency. “He has given directions to draw up DPRs (detailed project reports) for 53 new tourism projects for Beypore. On the other hand, the constituencies of opposition members are ignored,” Saneesh said.
He said the minister had utter contempt for opposition members and adopts an arrogant attitude towards them. And then he slyly threw in the nepotism angle: “It could be because it was a special privilege that made him a minister. It’s fine. He’ll soon realise that the ultimate power is with the people.”

Riyas began his reply from where Saneesh ended. “The honourable Chalakkudy member says I am arrogant with opposition members. I did not understand why he said that. If being vocal about my party’s political stand is arrogance, then I’ll remain arrogant till my last breath. Otherwise, my belief is that I have always behaved well with both ruling and opposition MLAs,” he said.
Riyas then termed as baseless Saneesh’s charge that he had directed officials to prepare 53 DPRs for Beypore. For Saneesh’s charge that Riyas habitually overlooked the constituencies of opposition MLAs, Riyas had this. “In his constituency (Chalakkudy), just before the Lok Sabha polls were declared, we had sanctioned Rs 6 crore for the Aanakkayam bridge along the Chalakkudy-Aanamali road,” the minister said. “He must have forgotten it. Perhaps, he came today with the deliberate intention to malign me.”

Riyas then made it known that he was aware of Saneesh’s insults. “He made some personal remarks against me but I don’t want to respond to them,” he said.
This did not mean that Saneesh was left off the hook. “He (Saneesh) is coming from Thrissur. We know what’s happening in Thrissur DCC office after the election results had come out,” Riyas said. If Saneesh had found him haughty and privileged, Riyas was about to paint Saneesh as someone emerging from a fratricidal clan.
He said Saneesh came from Thrissur. “Mind you, Thrissur is also the land of Madhu Eacharath and Lalji,” he said.

Madhu and Lalji Kollannur were victims of a group war in Thrissur Congress more than a decade ago in 2013. “There are people who have the mind to annihilate even their own party men,” he said of the Congress. So I don’t see anything wrong in a person coming from such a culture speaking such things about me,” Riyas said.  

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