Even as the Congress central leadership is playing a wait-and-watch game on the fate of Deputy Chairman of the Rajyasabha PJ Kurien in the Suryanelli rape case, a key accused, who has been absconding, has alleged that the veteran leader was indeed involved and that the chief investigator of the case had let him go.
The sensational revelation, that found its way into the Kerala assembly today, was made by the recently launched Malayalam channel, Mathrubhumi in an interview with the accused, Dharmarajan. He was convicted in the case by the Kerala High Court, but jumped bail and went into hiding. The channel traced him somwhere in Karnataka.
He told the channel that he had named Kurien during the investigation, but the Sibi Mathews, the head of the investigation team had hushed him up. Mathews, investigated the case when the late CPM leader EK Nayanar was the chief minister of the state. His investigation found that there was no evidence to implicate Kurien in the case.
Since the entire case was largely built on the accounts of the rape-survivor, a minor girl at the time of the incidence whose life has since been devastated, and circumstantial evidence, this revelation will certainly put both the Congress and Kurien under enormous pressure. The girl recently had reiterated her charge that Kurien had indeed raped her. She has been consistent in her charge for the last 17 years.
The opposition demand is that if all the accused can be booked based on the girl's testimonies, Kurien should also be investigated. Now that there is more corroborative evidence, including the words of a key accused, the opposition will raise its pitch. The state capital has witnessed several protests last week asking for a re-investigation of the case.
In the assembly, the opposition demanded action against Kurien and an apology from the union defence minister AK Antony, who spoke in support of him yesterday. Antony said in Delhi yesterday that Kurien was investigated by two CPM governments and was and was not found guilty.
With this revelation, it will be nearly impossible for the Congress High Command to save Kurien. The veteran leader has no considerable political clout with the party leadership in the state, but has the sympathy and patronage of the central leadership. Delhi has been his political base for years now.
He also has excellent relationship with other political parties and hence the clamour for his ouster in Delhi was largely muted. The CPM, except Sitaram Yechury and Brinda Karat, hasn't asked for his head while the BJP more or less rejected the demand for his resignation. However, the state units of both the parties are extremely belligerent in their demand.
The Suryanelli rape case is 17-year old sex-scandal that still haunts the collective conscience of Kerala. A 16-year old girl, who has since been called the "Suryanelli girl" was trafficked by a bus conductor in 1996 and sexually abused by 42 men in 40 days in different places. She was finally released from captivity when she fell grievously ill.
The then CPM state government ordered an investigation and In 2000, a special court sentenced 35 people, including a woman, who trafficked and abused her, to rigorous imprisonment; but five years later the Kerala High Court acquitted all of them. The state government filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court against the HC order. The SC, after nearly eight years, quashed the acquittal early this month, bringing the case, which was otherwise forgotten, back to the social and political mainstream of the state. The SC also expressed shock at the HC decision.
Following the SC verdict, the rape-survivor repeated her charge that Kurien was one of her tormentors and he should be brought to book. She wrote to her counsel in the SC asking him to pursue action against Kurien . Subsequently, Kerala's TV channels ran back-to-back interviews with the girl and her parents who appeared resolute on punishing Kurien.
Kurien, meanwhile pleaded innocence and justified himself saying that he had been investigated thrice and cleared by both the Kerala High Court and the Supreme Court. When the Congress High Command appeared to be backing Kurien, the girl wrote to Congress President Sonia Gandhi as well.