Controversy over Kerala minister’s remark

P. Sreekumaran

Out of the frying pan into the fire. That is exactly the predicament the CPM, which heads the controversy-prone Left Democratic Front (LDF) Government, finds itself in.
The latest controversy, caused by Power Minister M M Mani’s lewd comments against Pembilai Orumai, a women’s collective which successfully launched an agitation against estate managements last year, has erupted even as the Pinarayi Vijayan Government is struggling to overcome the crisis created by the sharp CPM-CPI differences over the anti-encroachment drive in Munnar in Idukki district.
The Minister’s remarks made at a public meeting have unleashed a storm of angry protests across the state. Mani had stated that the Pembilai Orumai activists and leaders had indulged in an orgy of drinking and ‘other activities’ during the one-month long agitation. The agitation demanding better wages and working conditions for estate workers had hogged the national limelight.
The angry Pembilai Orumai activists have toughened their stance. They have launched a stir, and made it clear that they would not end their protest until and unless Mani makes a public apology in front of them.
Leading the chorus of condemnation were Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. The Chief Minister said the remarks of Mani, a staunch Pinarayi loyalist, were condemnable. Kodiyeri who also decried the Mani remark, said the issue would be discussed in the party forum. Leading CPM women leaders like Minister G Mercikutty Amma, Kannur MP P K Sreemathy and Law Minister A K Balan also joined the chorus of condemnation.
Feeling the heat of anger, Mani has expressed regrets over the incident. But mere apology won’t do, given the intensity of anger the episode has unleashed. Expectedly, Opposition leaders have alleged that Mani’s remarks constitute a flagrant violation of the oath of secrecy, and that a criminal cse should be filed against him. In fact, leader of the opposition, Ramesh Chennithala has written to the CM demanding the registration of a case and Mani’s immediate resignation.
The controversy could not have come at a worse time for the CPM which finds itself in the eye of a storm over the Munnar anti-encroachment drive. And this is not the first time Mani has come out with such abusive and vulgar comments. In fact, use of abusive language seems to be second nature to him. It may be mentioned that in the past, he had made lurid and sexually-loaded comments against the woman principal of Painavu Government Polytechnic.
That such blatantly anti-women comments must come from a minister belonging to a communist government is, to say the least, shocking. Veteran CPM leader V S Achuthanandan has rightly observed that such remarks are unbecoming of a genuine communist leader.
The latest controversy has, it goes without saying, further dented the credibility and reputation of the LDF Government. The only way the government can retrieve the situation is by sacking the ‘serial offender’ immediately.
Before turning his ire against women, Mani had launched a virtual tirade against Devikulam sub-collector Sriram Venkitaraman, who earned all-round praise for his unrelenting eviction drive in Munnar. Mani and other CPM leaders came down heavily on Sriram for removing a cement cross erected at Pappathichola in Idnukki district by the Spirit of Jesus, a Thrissur-based evangelist group.
What was surprising was that though various church denominations had criticized the erection of the cross on encroached land, some CPM leaders supported the encroaches! The last straw was the Chief Minister’s outburst against the Devikulam collector and sub-collector for the removal of the cross! It has reinforced the perception that the CPM is against the eviction drive and siding with the encroachers.
Not surprisingly, the CPI, which controls the revenue department has come out against the CM’s outburst against the collector and sub-collector. Revenue Minister E Chandrashekharan has asked the revenue officials to go ahead with the eviction drive ignoring the criticism. But it remains to be seen whether the drive would be taken to the logical conclusion with the CM himself voicing his misgivings and criticism against the manner in which it has been undertaken.
It is against this backdrop the remarks of Mani have come to torment the CPM. The CPM finds itself impaled on the horns of a dilemma. It would be damned if the party fails to take firm action against Mani. The political cost such inaction could entail would be enormous. At the same time, it is unlikely that Mani, known for his abrasive comments and acerbic tongue, would change his style of functioning. The central leadership should intervene and see that the loose cannon in the CPM is shown the door. That is the only way the party can repair the enormous damage Mani has inflicted on the CPM and the LDF Government. The earlier the party does it, the better. (IPA)

Friday, 28 April, 2017