Senior NCP leaders on Wednesday said they presently do not think any illegality has been committed by Kerala Forest Minister A K Saseendran, who allegedly tried to settle a sexual harassment case involving a party member in Kollam, even as the Congress continued to demand his resignation and the CPI(M) said it does not have the complete details. Meanwhile, Saseendran met Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan at his official residence.
After the meeting, he told the media that he informed the chief minister about the entire issue and his role in the matter and Vijayan heard him out. Saseendran, however, did not say what the chief minister’s response was.
A Vijayaraghavan, the convener of Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala and the Secretary of CPI(M) Kerala State Committee, said his party or the state government has not taken a decision yet as they do not have the complete details regarding the matter. He said that presently the only details available was what was being shown on news channels and based on that a decision cannot be taken and therefore, he cannot comment on whether Saseendran should resign or not.
Leader of Opposition V D Satheesan reiterated his demand for Saseendran’s resignation and said if he does not resign, the chief minister should remove him. He said that CPI(M) was carrying out pro-women programmes in the state and questioned whether the instant incident was also part of that.
He said if Saseendran does not resign or if he is not removed, the issue would be raised in the Legislative Assembly which will commence its second session from Thursday. A similar demand, for removal of Saseendran, was made by Congress MP Benny Behanan in his letter to the Kerala Governor on Wednesday.
He has sought a direction from the Governor to the chief minister to remove the state forest minister, saying he violated his oath of office by allegedly pressurising the victim’s father to settle the sexual harassment case against a wealthy NCP leader in Kollam. After news channels speculated that the state government was not going to ask for his resignation, the victim told the media that she was disappointed with the stand of the chief minister and his government on the issue.
She alleged that the chief minister has taken a stand which favours his government and this was “not expected” from him. She further said that this would send a wrong message to women in the state that their safety and security is not important for the government.
She said that she was considering moving the courts for action against the minister. The victim also claimed that her statement was yet to be recorded by the Kundra police station.
She said she was called for recording her statement on Tuesday at 6 PM, but she had told the police she cannot come at such a late hour and the officers had said they will call her on Wednesday. “I have not received any such call,” she told the media.
Earlier in the day, T P Peethambaran, the National Secretary of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), said the minister only tried to resolve some party-related issue in Kollam and beyond that he did not interfere in any sexual harassment case. Kerala State President of NCP, P C Chacko, too responded on similar lines with regard to the allegations against Saseendran, saying the minister never asked the victim’s father — the Kundra Block president of NCP — to withdraw the case and only asked him to resolve amicably whatever the party-related issue was.
Chacko said whether there was any abuse of official position or interference in a criminal case by the Minister has to be explained by Saseendran and a decision on that has to be taken by the state government. However, according to the party neither the state government nor Saseendran can be blamed on moral or legal grounds in the present issue, he said and added that it was a” deliberate attempt to defame” the minister.
He said all the people calling for Saseendran’s resignation were doing so without knowledge of the complete facts. Chacko, while meeting mediapersons in Delhi, said that as far as the NCP was concerned, two of its General Secretaries have been sent to Kollam to ascertain what had happened and based on their report if it is found that some party member there acted in a manner which brings disrepute to the party, then strict action would be taken against them.
He said, according to his information, there was some monetary dispute between party members there, in relation to which some NCP members had approached the minister to call the block president to resolve the matter and that is whySaseendran had made the call. He further said the complaint of sexual harassment lodged by the girl was a separate issue which the police should investigate and take appropriate action in accordance with law and added that the NCP would not be interfering with that for any reason.
Chacko said that if a complaint has been made, it was the responsibility of the police to investigate it and NCP will not be trying to ” hush it up” or dissuade the agency from doing its job. The issue came to the fore after Malayalam news channels started airing an alleged telephonic conversation between Saseendran and the woman’s father, seeking to settle the issue by mutual agreement.
Subsequently, the minister had told the media that he did call up the girl’s father, but to try and settle what he thought was a dispute in the party. He had claimed that when he found out that it was a case of attempted sexual assault, he did not intervene any further.
The woman, a BJP member, said the NCP member in question had asked her in March whether she had joined BJP to earn money and if so, he would pay her and had then allegedly grabbed her arm. However, she had not lodged a complaint then.
Thereafter, the NCP member used to mock her at various fora and then on June 28 posted her election campaign poster on WhatsApp with the comment that her father got her to join BJP for earning money. On seeing this, she told her father about the earlier incident and he said a complaint should be lodged with police.
She has also alleged inaction on the part of the police.