Ten months into its term, the Left government in Kerala has been served its biggest embarrassment on Sunday. Transport Minister AK Saseendran has been forced to quit over leaks of an alleged ‘sex chat’ he has had with a woman over the phone. That Saseendran is the second minister to step down from the Pinarayi Vijayan government would certainly set the cat among the pigeons in the Left coalition in the state. EP Jayarajan was the first minister to step down in October last year over charges of nepotism.
The scandal has come at the worst time when the major partners of the coalition the CPI(M) and CPI have been bickering over various political issues. It was the first week of launch of yet another Malayalam news channel that took the minister out, in what is perceived by many as a major PR effort by the organisation. Mangalam TV, an extended television hand of the well-known daily ‘Mangalam’ aired two audio clips of the alleged sex chat the minister has had to viewers across drawing rooms in Kerala on Sunday morning.
But in a state that is known for the tainted politicians’ reluctance to leave the chair, Saseendran surprised one and all as he hurriedly called for a press briefing at Calicut to announce his resignation. “Please do not see my resignation as an endorsement of my guilt as I know I am completely innocent. I have requested the chief minister for a thorough investigation into the matter and since my continuing in power will be seen as an attempt to influence the course of the investigation, I have willingly stepped down,’’ said Saseendran.
But when asked whether the voice in the clip was that of the minister, he was seen sulking from it. “I have no reason to talk to any woman like that. So I don’t know what it is,’’ added the minister.
Meanwhile, as the news of the scandal spread, a visibly fuming Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan who met mediapersons outside the CPI(M) headquarters in the state, put the blame on the news channel. He claimed the channel wanted to score brownie points in the first week of its launch. “I had asked them when they called me for their inaugural function what bomb are they going to explode in the first few days. Now, we know what it is. Anyways I have ordered a thorough probe into this. Let us get the facts out first,’’ added Vijayan.
Meanwhile, the opposition led by the Congress are not stopping at the resignation of the minister. Rather with the Malappuram Assembly by-election round the corner, the opposition is using it to score a few points. “This does not end with the resignation of the minister. The incident raises the moral question on the cabinet and clouds the trust people will have in ministers. Hence, the chief minister has closely examined the issue and acted accordingly,’’ said Ramesh Chennithala, the Leader of Opposition.
The incident comes at a juncture when the state government is taking huge flak for lowering its guard in protecting women and children from sexual crimes. That a cabinet member has been caught in a compromising situation only magnifies the ignominy the chief minister and his deputies will have to face in days to come. “This government came to power promising better protection for women. If the ministers themselves are engaged in such activities what protection is this government going to give. This is so shameful,’’ added MM Hassan, president of Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC).
Conspiracy at play?
However, there is a number of reasons which point to conspiracy angle too. The version of the audio clip played out by the channel had the sound of the woman muffled.
Though the channel claims that it was done to protect her identity, there are atleast some who believe that the minister had become a victim of a honey trap laid down by political opponents inside his own party. There are many who raise the moral question whether a responsible news media could reveal part of the truth to serve its purpose and then shy away from giving the whole picture.
There is a political script to the whole story too. Saseendran is one among the two members of the state legislature representing the NCP. There had been a history of political rivalry and one-upmanship between Saseendran and the second MLA Thomas Chandy over who should adorn the minister’s chair. According to sources inside the CPI(M), Saseendran was the first choice of Pinarayi Vijayan when the government assumed power.
But there had been a tacit understanding between the NCP and the CPI(M) that midway to the government’s terms Thomas Chandy would be handed over the ministry. Now that hardly one year had passed and that the minister had to step down raises concerns of a conspiracy at play. But sources close to the chief minister are also adding that the coalition is in no hurry to find a replacement for the ousted minister.
Pinarayi feels the heat
The resignation of the minister and that too over a scandal with sexual overtones comes at a difficult time for Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. That this had hit the media headlines on the sidelines of the party’s all-important state committee meeting at Thiruvananthapuram, has certainly left Vijayan red-faced. The CPI(M) state secretariat which had met a few days ago to review the working of the state government had more demerits than merits to point out. The Home Department, which is again a portfolio under the chief minister, has been receiving some severe criticism as news of harassment and rape of women and children continue unabated in the state over the last few months.
The new scandal only adds to woes of the chief minister, who in the next few days, will have to unleash a major image makeover campaign. Otherwise, the one-year celebration of the Pinarayi Vijayan government, that has already seen two resignations, would be a damp squid.
Updated Date: Mar 27, 2017 07:51 AM