In another big embarrassment to the 10-month-old Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in Kerala, Transport Minister A K Saseendran resigned from its cabinet on Sunday after he was accused of seeking sexual favours from a woman who approached him for assistance.
The resignation came a few hours after a local television channel aired an audio clipping, in which he was purportedly heard speaking inappropriately with the woman. The audio clip, which isn’t very clear, has a man’s voice speaking in a lewd manner.
Saseendran, a five-time legislator from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) led by Maharashtra strongman Sharad Pawar, is the second minister to resign since the LDF government came to power in May 2016. Earlier in October, Industries Minister E P Jayarajan resigned in the wake of a raging row over the appointment of his family members to the public sector undertaking under his ministry.
The Saseendran episode is highly damaging to the government led by Pinarayi Vijayan since it came to power with a promise to protect the dignity of women and children. Ironically, the allegation against the 71-year-old minister comes amidst an alarming rise in incidents of sexual abuse of children and women.
Saseendran, a five-time legislator, made a weak attempt to defend himself by saying that he never speaks ill to anybody. He claimed that he did not remember talking to the woman figuring in the audio clipping. The channel did not air the voice of the woman.
The minister, however, said that he was stepping down from the ministry to safeguard the integrity of his party and the LDF government, which is already under fire for serious lapses in investigating some of the recent sensational sexual abuse cases.
“This is not the time to evaluate the right or wrong. I have a duty to protect the integrity of my party and the LDF. Neither the government nor the party will have to hang their head in shame because of me,” the 71-year-old leader said.
He said that he had conveyed his decision to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who advised him to act according to his political wisdom. He said that the chief minister had not sought his resignation. He has urged Pinarayi to conduct an investigation by any agency to find the truth behind the allegation.
The chief minister termed the allegation very serious. He said that the government will thoroughly investigate the incident. Saseendran’s party president Uzhavoor Vijayan has also described the allegation against his colleague very serious and added that he will take appropriate action after ascertaining the facts in the case. Supporters of the minister do not rule out a conspiracy behind the episode since the allegation was aired by the television on the day of its launch. The channel belonging to Mangalam group of publications was inaugurated by the chief minister on Sunday.
Channel CEO R Ajith Kumar denied any foul play in the audio clipping. He told Firstpost that the channel had got the clipping a week ago and had telecast after verifying its authenticity. He pointed out that the minister had not contested his voice in the audio clipping.
Leaders of opposition parties said that the NCP or the LDF could not escape by alleging conspiracy behind the incident since it was a reflection of its indifferent approach to the sexual atrocities against women and children. There has been a sharp rise in sexual crimes against women and children in the recent months.
According to Kerala State Crime Records Bureau, the state witnessed as many as 2,568 cases of rape in 2016 compared to 1,263 in 2015. Among the rape victims, 924 were children. A total of 16,960 cases of crime against women and children were reported in the state in the last one year.
Of the total crimes against women and children, 14,061 were against women and 2,899 against children, according to the Crime Records Bureau. The number of cases registered under Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act (POCSO) during the period was 2,093.
A series of incidents involving rape minor girls in different parts of the state had created outrage in the state. They include rape and impregnation of a 16-year-old girl by a Catholic priest in Kannur district, rape of seven minor girls between 13 and 14 years of age from an orphanage in Wayanad and alleged rape and murder of two sisters in Palakkad district.
Curiously, every LDF government in the last two decades had been witnessing ministers getting implicated in sexual crimes. The 1996-2001 government led by E K Nayanar saw the then Transport Minister Neelalohitadasan Nadar quitting after an IAS officer in his department lodged a sexual harassment case against him.
The turn in the 2006-11 LDF government led by V S Achuthanandan was that of Public Works Minister P J Joseph, who resigned after a woman accused him of misbehaving with her in an aircraft. Jose Thettayil, a legislator, also faced grave sexual abuse charge during this period.
Interestingly, the other NCP legislator Thomas Chandy who is eying the berth in the ministry in place of Saseendran is also not free from sexual allegations. His name had figured in connection with the Kiliroor sex scandal, in which a teenaged girl was sexually abused after being promises roles in TV serials.
The girl, who was taken to many places in and around the state and was sexually abused by "influential persons", died after she gave birth to a daughter. Achuthanandan had trained his gun against Chandy in the case.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said that the rise in sexual abuses cases in the last 10 ministers showed that the LDF promise to protect the dignity of woman was hollow. He wondered how the people could trust the government when senior leaders like Saseendran show scant respect to women.
“The Saseendran episode shows that the women cannot freely take up their issues with even ministers. The transport minister has tried to exploit a woman who went to him with a complaint. This is a very sorry state of affair in a literate state like Kerala,” he added.
State Mahila Congress president Bindhu Panickar said that mere resignation would not absolve Saseendran of the grave charge. She demanded criminal action against the senior leader for his sexual misdemeanours under the recent laws.
“If the government fails to initiate criminal proceedings against him it will send a wrong message to those involved in sexual abuse cases. The cases were showing a steady rise because of the failure of the home ministry in dealing effectively with the cases,” she added.
Bharatiya Janata Party leader J Padmakumar alleged that Saseendran had misused his position as a minister. He said that he had no moral right to continue as a public worker.
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Updated Date: Mar 27, 2017 07:52:01 IST