With just two weeks to go before Parliament meets, the Congress has to decide how it handle its leader PJ Kurien, the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, who has been accused by a rape survivor in Kerala of assaulting her in 1996 when she was a school girl.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPM's Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat today met Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari and handed over a memorandum on behalf of her party. In the letter, the CPM has urged the chairman to "take steps to protect the dignity of the constitutional post of Deputy Chairman."
The letter says, "In the forthcoming Parliament session, the anti-sexual assault ordinance is also scheduled to be discussed. The status of India's Parliament will be irreparably damaged in the eyes of the world if such a discussion is permitted to be guided by a person who has been accused of involvement in a case of rape of a 17 year old." (Read full letter here)
In 2005, the Kerala High Court acquitted 34 men accused of raping her. Mr Kurien was not among them; he had been exonerated by the Supreme Court. But calls for his removal have spiked this month after the Supreme Court ordered the Kerala High Court to re-try the case, and deliver a verdict within six months.
"I am the one who has been wronged," Mr Kurien told NDTV today, pointing out, as he has so often in the last few days, that multiple police investigations cleared him in what's known as the Suryanelli rape case after the part of Kerala that the survivor belongs to. Indicating that he will not resign, Mr Kurien said, "My conscience is clear and the case is a political one."
In the session that starts on February 21, Parliament will debate a recent set of anti-rape laws cleared by the government. Mr Kurien's detractors argue that given the charges against him, it would be grossly inappropriate for the 72-year-old parliamentarian to chair discussions in the Rajya Sabha on laws against sexual crimes.
Mr Kurien's defence could also be enervated by a local BJP leader in Kerala, Rajan Muleveetil, who had testified he met with the Congressman at the time when the rape victim placed him with her at a guesthouse. The BJP politician now says he was misquoted.
In Kerala, near-daily protests organised largely by the opposition are held against Mr Kurien. Today, the police used water cannons on demonstrators.
The rape survivor's mother wrote to Congress president Sonia Gandhi yesterday, alleging that the police did not investigate Mr Kurien long or hard enough because of his political influence. "We have learnt from newspapers that the high command of Congress has decided to support Kurien in this matter. As far as we are concerned, it is heart-breaking," she wrote.