Crime Branch arrested K Sudhakaran, Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee chief in a cheating case on Friday and was released on Bail later. Congress in a tweet claims that the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Kerala government made the arrest on the day of the Opposition parties' meeting in Patna as a form of "autocratic tactics aimed at tarnishing the reputation of our resolute leaders".
In the cheating case, the prime accused is Monson Mavunkal, a controversial antique dealer.
According to the reports, Sudhakaran told the media that the Crime Branch questioned him for several hours before the arrest was made.
Sudhakaran reportedly said, "They questioned me. After that, they recorded my arrest and then I was released on bail. I have faith in judiciary. I will face the case in court."
The Congress Party on Saturday tweeted saying, "The Congress party firmly asserts that we shall not be intimidated by such autocratic tactics aimed at tarnishing the reputation of our resolute leaders. We will respond to the wrongdoings of the CPM through the judicial system and the will of the people."
Following Sudhakaran's arrest, the national leadership of Congress came down heavily on Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, saying he, just like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has a "fascist attitude" of imprisoning those critical of his government.
AICC general secretary in charge of communications, Jairam Ramesh said while the rest of the opposition in the country was on one track, Vijayan was acting as "Mundu Modi".
"Rest of the Opposition is on one track nationally, while Pinarayi Vijayan is busy proving what has all along been known that he is Mundu Modi. This unwarranted harassment of Kerala PCC President K Sudhakaran based on a trumped-up case will only make our resolve stronger in Kerala," Ramesh tweeted.
Later in the night, Congress and Youth Congress workers came out on the streets in various parts of the state and blocked roads in protest against Sudhakaran's arrest.
Visuals of the protests on TV channels showed party workers blocking roads, burning effigies of Vijayan and holding marches in various parts of the state.
Sudhakaran, surrounded by several party leaders and workers, after he was released on bail said he was "fully confident" that the police had no evidence against him in the case for him to be punished.
"I am not afraid. I am not going to hide anywhere," he said.
Asked about his links with Mavunkal, the KPCC chief said he has none.
Besides the national leadership of Congress, its senior party leaders in Kerala too criticised Sudhakaran's arrest and termed it as a "political conspiracy".
Leader of Opposition (LoP) in the Kerala assembly, V D Satheesan contended that the Left government was "ruled by fear" and was trying to silence the opposition by such tactics.
He said both the Congress and the UDF opposition led by it would resist the Left government's alleged move of filing false cases against the opposition leaders who are criticising the administration and making allegations of corruption against it.
Satheesan alleged that the actions of Vijayan in Kerala were a "carbon copy" of what Modi was doing in Delhi.
Senior Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala too equated Vijayan with Modi by alleging that they both share the same "fascist attitude" of imprisoning those critical of their government.
He contended that Sudhakaran's arrest was "politically motivated" and would be countered legally and politically.
Chennithala also said that the KPCC chief's arrest was a "drama" to divert public attention from the alleged corruption and mismanagement by the state government.
He also said that Vijayan and CPI(M) state secretary M V Govindan were living in a "fool's paradise" if they thought they can silence the opposition by such moves.
He also took a dig at the police by joking that the force allegedly stands with its hands tied when party criminals walk in front of it and now it was also hiding criminals.
KPCC general secretary T U Radhakrishnan also spoke in support of his party's state unit chief and said June 24 would be observed as a Black Day by Congress across Kerala in protest against Sudhakaran's arrest.
He said Congress workers, from booth level onwards, would light torches and hold demonstrations in all districts, and asked party workers to exercise restraint during their protests and agitations.
Earlier in the day, prior to leaving for the Crime Branch office here, Sudhakaran told media that his "conscience is clear" and he has "not committed any wrong or illegality" and therefore, he does not need to fear anyone or anything.
"No matter what statement they (Crime Branch) have, as long as my conscience is clear, I do not need to fear anything. Whatever be the evidence they have, let it come. I will face it.
"I know what I did and did not do. My conscience tells me I have done no wrong. I have not misused anyone. I have not accepted bribes from anyone. In my life and politics, I am a politician who has never accepted a bribe. It is political ethics. Therefore, I do not need to fear anyone," the KPCC chief said.
During the day, CPI(M) state secretary M V Govindan told reporters in Delhi that his remarks against Sudhakaran in connection with a POCSO case were based on a news report and he was sticking to his stand until new evidence came to the contrary.
"Let it be investigated, that is what I had said," he said.
Govindan, citing a report that appeared in his party's mouthpiece 'Deshabhimani', had claimed on June 18 that the minor victim in the rape case told the Crime Branch that Sudhakaran was present at one of the locations where she was raped by Mavunkal, and therefore, the special wing might question the KPCC leader.
The Kerala High Court on Wednesday, while asking Sudhakaran to appear before the Crime Branch on June 23, had said that in the event he is arrested in the cheating case, he shall be released on bail on furnishing a bond of Rs 50,000 with two sureties of the like amount.
"This order shall be in force for two weeks," the court had said.
It had also directed the KPCC chief to cooperate with the investigation and not to attempt to intimidate or influence witnesses in the case.
The order came on the anticipatory bail plea filed by Sudhakaran who was asked to appear before the Crime Branch, which is probing the cheating case.
The Crime Branch had decided to interrogate the KPCC president on the basis of a statement by complainants, who lost their money in the cheating case, claiming they had handed over money to Mavunkal in the presence of Sudhakaran.
Earlier, the agency had submitted an additional report before the court here, arraigning Sudhakaran as an accused in the case.
When the allegations cropped up against him two years ago, Sudhakaran denied them.
The issue had snowballed into a political controversy as images of Mavunkal along with Sudhakaran emerged. Sudhakaran had said he had gone to Mavunkal's residence for treatment as the latter claimed to be a trained cosmetologist.
Mavunkal had allegedly made false representations about himself and his business to various people and collected money from them. Many images of Mavunkal with senior police officers and bureaucrats of the state have surfaced.
Cherthala native Mavunkal, who claims to be in possession of rare and historic antiques, was arrested by the Crime Branch in September 2021. He is facing charges of having swindled Rs 10 crore from several people.
(With PTI inputs)