Even as it is trying to wriggle out of the Suryanelli rape case that seems to be drowning veteran Congress leader and Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha PJ Kurien, another old sex scandal is catching up with the Congress-led UDF government in Kerala.
Although the Congress can let go of Kurien and survive, in the second case it is not easy because it implicates one of the most influential politicians in the UDF camp - Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) leader and industries minister PK Kunhalikutty.
Reportedly the opposition leader VS Achuthanandan has gotten hold of the case diary of the sensational “ice-cream parlour case” in which Kunhalikutty was allegedly involved. Also, the case diary apparently shows that the minister had paid off the victims to exclude himself from being investigated.
This will be potent ammunition for Achuthanandan who has been relentlessly pursuing Kunhalikutty for about two decades. Although Kunhalikutty, his party and the UDF has been maintaining that he was innocent and had been absolved by even the Supreme Court, Achuthanandan charged that he had influenced officials and paid off the victims to get himself out of the case. He said the minister was not prosecuted because he sabotaged the case and there should be a fresh investigation.
Kunhalikutty was never charged in the case.
The case, which made headlines first when one of the victims, Regina, alleged on a local TV channel in 2004 that she was abused by Kunhalikutty eight years earlier. The allegations snowballed into a campaign against Kunhalikutty and in 2005, when UDF was in power, he resigned as the industries and IT minister. The Congress was so helpless that the then chief minister Oomen Chandy as well as Sonia Gandhi had left the decision to the IUML.
Regina, subsequently changed her testimony and absolved the minister. In all subsequent elections, the “ice cream parlour case” as well as the charges against Kunhalikutty have been a key electoral issue in northern parts of Kerala for the CPM-led opposition.
Even as Kunhalikutty remained excluded from the case, the charges against him resurfaced during the last tenure of Achuthanandan as the chief minister. A relative of Kunhalikutty, and his one-time man-Friday, had alleged that the leader was indeed involved in the case and it was him, who who paid off the victims and influenced legal officers. Kunhalikutty and the UDF charged that the relative, KA Rauf, was a criminal and was in hand-in-gloves with Achuthanandan.
Based on Rauf’s revelations and some sting-video, Achuthanandan had ordered a fresh enquiry, which continued during the present UDF regime. The investigators found no evidence against the Kunhalikutty.
The UDF recently informed the Kerala High Court that Rauf was a habitual offender who faced ten criminal cases. The government also said that it was planning to detain him under Goonda’s Act. A pro-government news-channel released transcripts of phone conversations between him and a police officer, who was close to the CPM, exposing his alleged criminality.
Ever since the Kunhalikutty had been implicated in the ice-creme parlour case, a tenacious Achuthanandan has been his bugbear. Although Kunhalikutty managed to stay off the charges, the CPM veteran said he would never leave his fight until the former is brought to book. Although his efforts at reviving the investigation against the leader based on Rauf’s allegations failed, the case diary has provided him fresh fire-power.
The Muslim League has begun a counter attack, citing the subsequent parts of the same case diary that Achuthanandan is quoting from, which reportedly includes the rebuttal of the earlier statements by the girls. However, it won’t be an easy ride for both the Muslim League veteran and the UDF.
Unlike Kurien, Kunhalikutty is not an easily dispensable asset. In fact, touching him will compromise the very existence of the UDF government. The Muslim League is the most critical and demanding member of the present government and had got everything that they asked for from a grudging Chandy and the UDF, despite widespread condemnation by other political parties and community groups.
While being the biggest political asset of the UDF, the Muslim League and Kunhalikutty are also the biggest weak-spot of the ruling government and the Congress. Every time there is a charge against the party and the minister, it is the Congress that takes the hit and feels vulnerable. It also compels the chief minister Oomen Chandy to openly defend him.
Even the CPM trains its guns on the Muslim League when it wants to take potshots at the Congress. The CPM, probably also with an eye on the Hindu votes, has charged time and again that the state is run by the Muslim league. Some even went to the extent of alleging that the League has completely communalised their ministries such as education, industries and public works. Traditionally, Muslim League gets plum cabinet portfolios, particularly the highly strategic education and industries.
Now, the state capital and the assembly are gripped by Anti-Kurien protests, and most likely it will subside with Kurien’s inevitable exit. The CPM and the opposition will now focus more on Kurien.
Once Kurien is done with, the next in line will be Kunhalikutty. His party has fielded its most logical and vocal leaders to defend him, but this time it will he hard. They will also try to bring out the best ammunition against Achuthanandan, linking him with Rauf.
Whether the evidence is strong or not, ultimately the League will push the ball into Oomen Chandy’s court. Unfortunately, Chandy won’t be able to move an inch with it and will want Kunhalikutty himself to decide.
Meanwhile, for Achuthanandan, who thrives on scandals, the case diary is a magic bullet against both the UDF and his own party, the CPM. All his detractors in the CPM, who have recently asked for his head again for continuing indiscipline and factionalism, will have to swallow their ego at least till the 2014-elections are over