By KA Antony
As the revelations made by Saritha S Nair before the judicial commission now inquiring the solar scam scandal pose a major threat to the poll prospects of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala, stories of two other women that had upset the UDF apple cart in the past elections come to the fore.
The first one to deal a heavy blow to the UDF during the 1996 elections was the story of a 16-year-old schoolgirl from Suryanelli in central Kerala, who was allegedly kidnapped and raped by as many as 37 men for a period of 40 days. The Suryanelli sex scandal rocked Kerala politics after senior Congress leader PJ Kurien was alleged to have sexually assaulted the girl.
After the arrack ban in Kerala, the UDF government led by AK Antony was expecting a second term. But with the screams of the Suryanelli girl playing spoilsport, the UDF had to face a humiliating defeat in the Assembly elections that followed.The number of seats won by the UDF in that election went down to 59 from 90 seats won in the previous election.
Though the victim recognised Kurien from his photograph in a newspaper, the crime against him could not be proved. A special court in 2000, however, found 35 of the 37 accused as guilty. Kurien once again was in the thick of controversy after Dharmarajan, the prime accused in the Suryanelli case, who went absconding after the court had sentenced him to life term imprisonment, revealed in a TV interview that the Congress leader was involved in the sex scandal. But Kurien got some relief as Dharmarajan, soon after his arrest, retracted the allegation.
The second woman to shatter the hopes of UDF in the 2006 Assembly election was Rajeena — a victim of the sensational Kozhikode ice cream parlour sex racket case involving industries minister and Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) leader PK Kunhalikutty. This time also the UDF was reduced to 42 seats against LDF’s 98.
Kunhalikutty had to resign as industries minister following Rajeena’s revelation that the minister had raped her.
The ice cream sex scandal formed the major campaign point for the LDF. Various women's organisations like Anweshi led by former Naxal leader K Ajitha, campaigned vigorously against Kunhalikutty leading to his defeat from the IUML stronghold of Kuttippuram twice represented by him before. Some other prominent IUML leaders like ET Mohammed Basheer, MK Muneer and KPA Majeed also tasted defeat in the 2006 Assembly elections.
Like Kurien, Kunhalikutty was in the dock once again in 2011 after Rauf, his co-brother alleged that the minister was still paying money to the victim to hush up the case. The Kerala Police ordered a fresh investigation following a complaint by the Opposition leader VS Achuthanandan. Though the special investigation team gave clean chit to Kunhalikutty, a petion from Achuthanandan demanding an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is pending before the Supreme Court.
The UDF now faces almost the same situation as in 1996 and 2006 with Saritha and Biju Ramesh — a bar owner who has accused the government of accepting bribes to renew liquor licences — coming up with fresh allegations against Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, his cabinet colleagues, MPs, MLAs and Congress leaders, almost on a daily basis.
Ajitha, who was at the forefront in the fight to get justice for the victims of the ice-cream parlour sex scandal case, said that she has a very bad impression about present-day Kerala politics. "Politics, especially UDF politics have taken an ugly turn. From ministers to ordinary Congress leaders, everyone is neck-deep in scandals and corruption. I have some faith in the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) even though not all of its leaders are perfect. But it is the Left that takes a stern stand against the fascism unleashed by the Narendra Modi regime. Fascism is showing its ugly teeth every day all over India. Though the present day CPI(M) is basically bankrupt in terms of ideology, I feel that the Left would make a better choice this time," she said.
Novelist and screen play writer CV Balakrishnan said the bar bribery issue and the new liquor policy of the UDF government will have an adverse impact on the coming elections.
“We cannot rule out the allegations raised by Biju Ramesh. This government will have to pay a heavy price for the closure of bars after asking the owners to shell out huge amounts for upgradation. Official figures say that over 18,000 bar employees lost their jobs due to the prohibition which was introduced without conducting a proper study. Everybody in Kerala knows the new liquor policy was part of the ego clashes in the Congress leadership in Kerala,” he said.
K Govindaraj, a political observer said, “There is no doubt that UDF faces a similar situation as Saritha is coming out everyday with more and more evidence to prove Chandy and his men had a role in the solar panel scam. The new politics is based on market economy and middlemen. This has led to issues like the solar and bar bribery scams.”
“I am of the opinion that both Saritha and Ramesh will ensure the rout of the UDF in the coming Assembly elections,” said O Raveendran, a Life Insurance Corporation employee who watches Kerala politics keenly.
Noted writer N Sasidharan said although he did not want to make any prediction on the election results, the way the government and its chief minister had failed to counter Saritha’s allegations, would make people feel ashamed.