Renu vs Rajendran: Has the MLA been felled by Renaissance wave?

Renu vs Rajendran: Has the MLA been felled by Renaissance wave?
IAS official Renu Raj and CPI(M) MLA S Rajendran

Devikulam MLA S Rajendran's contemptuous remarks against sub-collector Dr Renu Raj could be considered as mild as grandfatherly rebuke when compared to what he himself, his mentor M M Mani and other senior CPM leaders had earlier spoken about women.

The latest outburst looks less toxic, too, in comparison. Rajendran's comments were made when the curtains were down, when he thought only friends and sidekicks were listening. But the older, perhaps even cruder, comments by Rajendran and others were uttered in full public view and in the most unapologetic manner.

M M Mani, who defined the struggle of Pembilai Orumai activists (poor plantation women agitating for minimum wages) in the most wicked terms, and described a woman principal in a language unfit to be printed, is now a minister. It looks like PWD Minister G Sudhakaran is the state's new-age 'smarthan', the upper caste man who in the medieval age was given the authority to excommunicate women of supposedly loose morals.

During a public meeting in 2016, the PWD minister spoke so disparagingly about a woman who was once in his personal staff that even his aides were shocked. He publicly cast serious aspersions on the woman based on mere hearsay. The champions of renaissance did not utter a word of censure.

Rajendran's isolation

Rajendran, therefore, shouldn't have worried. But apparently to his shock, the CPM MLA found himself badly cornered this time. The CPM, which is normally protective of its vile-mouthed leaders, ditched Rajendran. Initially, Rajendran had refused to apologise but he soon had to put out an apology though it sounded half-hearted.

Idukki district secretary K K Jayachandran sprung a surprise by saying that action would be taken against Rajendran for hurting the party's image. Gone was the immunity he was granted to speak outrageous things at will; he had once even said that Devikulam sub-collector V R Premkumar had secured IAS by cheating. The government, too, has now sidelined Rajendran. Revenue Minister E Chandrasekharan made it clear that Dr Renu Raj had done nothing wrong.

Power Minister MM Mani

Wave that felled Rajendran

What changed in between the earlier anti-women tirades that he and his leaders got away with and the latest that has landed him in trouble is the sudden swell of renaissance talk in the state. To counter the Sangh Parivar's Sabarimala campaign, the Pinarayi Vijayan government had set in motion a new wave of renaissance rhetoric. Rajendran's party-sanctioned hubris seems to have been washed away by this wave.

“Had it been a Sriram Venkitaraman or Premkumar that Rajendran was spewing venom at instead of Renu Raj, the MLA would still have got away with it,” a top bureaucrat told Onmanorama on the condition of anonymity. “But after this song and dance about renaissance and the Women's Wall, the government cannot afford to be seen as anti-women. It was inevitable that they took a firm stand,” the officer said.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan

Pre-renaissance hubris

It would be interesting to know how the CPM would have reacted to certain misogynistic comments made by the likes of M M Mani and G Sudhakaran before renaissance became a political fad. It is not just the Munnar biggies or Sudhakaran who have this tendency to boss women officers around. In 2017, as though emboldened by a large crowd surrounding him, Parassala MLA C K Hareendranath berated a woman deputy collector in a tone that would have looked ugly even for a feudal landlord. The Women's Commission had to intervene to force out an apology from the MLA.

A politician's mass moment

Renu vs Rajendran: Has the MLA been felled by renaissance wave?
PWD Minister G Sudhakaran with CM Pinarayi Vijayan.

At times, this show of authority is the politician's way of showing off. “It is the politician's mass moment when he takes on a no-nonsense upright official. To shout at an IAS officer, that too in front of a crowd, seems to somehow assuage his pride. The only thing the official can do is to swallow her pride and get on with her work. It is only in films that they can give a fitting clap-worthy reply,” the senior IAS official said.

At other times, MLAs are even right to get angry. “Bureaucratic lethargy had slowed down many projects. It is justifiable for the MLA to get upset in such instances. We have also seen that things get done fast when MLAs assert themselves,” the official said.

The danger is when the MLA or minister uses his power to thwart disciplined and honest officers. “Honest officers simply get thrown about and threatened simply because they refuse to bend the rules,” he said.

Bookish bureaucracy

All said, Kerala Sastra Sahithya Parishad activist Gopan Mukundan flags yet another issue. “Munnar is a place where a panchayat does not have enough land to construct a toilet when the Kanan Devan company has thousands of hectares in its possession. Bureaucrats cannot be so rigid in enforcing rules. If they do so, they will estrange a whole population,” he said.

MLA in trouble

The CPM district leadership had decided to take action against Rajendran after he said the sub-collector “doesn't have brains. She studied only to become a collector. Such people will have only so much brains. Should she not study the sketch, plans. A collector cannot intervene in a panchayat construction."

Reacting to the statement, Renu Raj had said the MLA’s comments were intended to stop her from carrying out official duties as a sub-collector.

The MLA targeted the official after she tried to stop construction work by the Munnar panchayat in violation of a High Court order.

The IAS official had also sought contempt of court proceedings against the panchayat secretary.

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