The Loka Kerala Sabha, a Non-resident Keralites convention, to be held in the United States of America this month, has sparked a controversy over money being charged from ‘pravasis’ to stand or sit close to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan during the three-day event. As the Congress led opposition has come up against the convention, the ruling denied the allegations, of fund raising.
WHAT IS THE CONTROVERSY AND CHARGES INVOLVED?
The controversy erupted after the local organisers in the US listed the prices for various services offered to those who are willing to pay. Reports said amounts ranging from USD 25,000 to USD 100,000 were being charged as part of the “offer” to sit or stand close to the Chief Minister. The conference will be held in New York on June 9, 10 and 11. It said that the sponsorship was in three passes- Gold that will cost one lakh dollar, Silver- 50,000 dollar and Bronze 25,000 dollar.
While those who buy gold and silver passes can sit on the dais along with Vijayan. They can also have dinner with the arriving VIPs, including Vijayan, State Finance Minister K.N.Balagopal, Assembly Speaker A.N.Shamseer, Norka vice chairman P.Sreeramakrishnan.
WHAT THE RULING SAYS?
The ruling CPI (M) led Left Government and the Department of Non Resident Keralites Affairs (NORKA) denied the allegations of fundraising. Kerala Finance Minister K N Balagopal told reporters he was not aware of any fundraising as it was NORKA, which was handling everything.
He said that no wrong activity would be carried out with active knowledge of the state government.
NORKA vice chairperson P Sreeramakrishnan also denied the allegations. The Kerala government and NORKA handled the travel arrangements and the people in the US organised the event, he added.
He denied that any registration fee was charged or fundraising carried out in the name of the Chief Minister. However, he said that the organisers might have collected amounts as “sponsorship” for the 3-day conference.
Sreeramakrishnan said that the opportunity to meet and interact with the Chief Minister would not be governed by who pays how much.
WHAT THE OPPOSITION SAID?
Congress president K Sudhakaran said that the Loka Kerala Sabha has become the synonym of extravagance. Leader of Opposition V D Satheesan came out heavily against the LDF government for dividing NRKs into haves and have-nots.
The opposition Congress contended that it was “embarrassing” for the state that amounts ranging from USD 25,000 to USD 100,000 were charged as part of the “offer” to sit or stand close to the Kerala Chief Minister. Satheesan said it was not in keeping with the principles of Kerala. Moreover, it was not acceptable to the people of the state. He also alleged, “pravasis are being differentiated based on money”.
Satheesan charged that a Communist CM was showing to the world the difference between the haves and have-nots. He also asked who permitted this fund collection in the name of the state and the CM.
WHAT THE ORGANISERS SAY?
The organisers have now come up with a clarification. They said neither they nor the Kerala government asked for or received any financial assistance. Once the programme concludes, it will be the organising committee’s responsibility to convince the audience about the funding.
Vijayan will arrive in the US on July 8. He would preside over the regional meeting of the Loka Kerala Sabha. Loka Kerala Sabha was formed soon after Vijayan took over as the Chief Minister in 2016. It is a meeting of the Diaspora.