Kerala CPM in a tight corner

P. Sreekumaran

The sexual harassment complaint against P K Sasi, the CPI(M) MLA representing the Shoranur constituency, has put the party in a tight spot.
What has invited people’s wrath is that the party took almost three weeks – that is the public perception although the party has denied it – to look into the complaint.
Whatever the truth, it ultimately took a directive from CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury to the state CPI(M) to stir the party into action. The complainant woman, a DYFI member, had written to Yechury as her complaint to the state leadership failed to evoke any response. The state CPI(M) leadership simply sat on the complaint for over three weeks. That is the allegation made by the Congress and the BJP.
The State Secretariat of the Kerala CPI(M) has now constituted a two- member committee comprising minister AK Balan and MP P K Sreemathy to conduct a preliminary probe and submit the report at the earliest. The growing perception is that the CPI(M) will have no other option but to take disciplinary action against Sasi if he is found guilty by the probe.
A jubilant opposition has pounced upon the issue to push the CPI(M) and the LDF government on the defensive. Their contention is that the laws of the land require that as soon as a sexual harassment complaint is received, it should be handed over to the police for further action. The CPI(M) leadership has not deemed it fit to do so on the specious plea that the woman herself has not filed a police complaint. That is a ridiculous argument. The opposition parties argue that the woman wanted the party itself to do the needful in the matter and ensure justice for her.
The Kerala CPI(M)’s stand that the party would punish the MLA if found guilty is simply unacceptable. The party would be fully justified to do so if it was a party-related complaint.
But a complaint of a criminal nature is a different cup of tea. The party should have handed over the complaint to the police as per the law. Or is it the contention of the CPI(M) that action at the party level is sufficient in a case involving sexual harassment by a leader who is also a highly influential party MLA? If the party thinks so, then the action amounts to thumbing a nose at the rule of the law, which forms the cornerstone of a democratic polity, and sending a wrong message.
The state CPI(M) could have taken the wind out of the opposition’s sails if only it had promptly handed over the complaint to the police. If it had done that, the party could have spared itself and the government headed by it acute embarrassment it is facing now.
Significantly, the party itself seems to be divided on the issue. While the pro-Sasi elements defend him, his detractors – Sasi has quite a few enemies within the party – wanted the party to take prompt action.
What has added to the pressure on the party for action is veteran VS Achuthanandan’s stand. VS has demanded that stringent action should be taken against Sasi. In fact, VS has dashed off a letter to Yechury seeking early and strict action in the matter. The party, VS said, should not compromise on matters relating to women’s safety and security.
It is the pressure from within the party as well as the directive from the central leadership which has prompted the state leadership to form a committee to probe the issue. From the look of things, action against Sasi may be inevitable. And that is how it should be. After all, the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government came to power mainly on two planks: battle against corruption and safety and security of women. Neither the party nor the government led by it can be seen to be vacillating when it comes to action against leaders who indulge in sexual harassment. (IPA)

Sunday, 23 September, 2018