Kerala Forest minister A K Saseendran, who was caught on audio asking the father of a harassment victim to settle the issue amicably, met Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Wednesday. After a 15-minute tete-a-tete, Saseendran said he had told the Chief Minister what he wanted to say. He ruled out his resignation over the controversy.
He also made it clear that it was he who sought a meeting with the chief minister. "Before the Assembly session (beginning on July 22), I wanted to tell him a couple of things," Saseendran told reporters waiting outside the Cliff House.
Whether the Chief Minister was satisfied with his response, Saseendran said he had not asked. "I have told him what I wanted to say. He listened to me attentively," Saseendran said.
The chief minister is yet to reveal his mind but sources said the CPM was not in favour of victimising Saseendran in this issue. The party is convinced with the forest minister's explanation that settling a female harassment issue was not his intention. As a senior leader of the NCP, the CPM feels Saseendran was only trying to intervene in an internal party feud. It was also felt that Saseendran had not used his authority as minister while talking to the victim's father.
Earlier, when Saseendran went to the Chief Minister's official residence there were speculations that Saseendran would be asked to step down. Given that the Opposition was already gunning for his head, it was felt that the chief minister would want to prevent the disruption of Assembly proceedings in the name of Saseendran.
Nonetheless, Saseendran said there was no discussion of his resignation.
"There were many things that I wanted to convey to him, including the Kuttanad package. I also sought more money for the Forest Department for compensation related matters," Saseendran said, suggesting that the audio clip was just one of the many issues he broached with the Chief Minister.
Saseendran, a senior leader of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), landed in trouble on Tuesday as an audio clip of a telephonic controversy came out. In the audio clip, Saseendran is heard interfering in a harassment case filed by a young woman against a local NCP leader.
In the audio clip, the forest minister can be heard asking the father of the harassment victim to settle the charge against a Kollam-based leader of his NCP party in a "good way".
The father of the victim, himself a local NCP leader, alleges that Saseendran was standing in the way of his family getting justice. He said it was Saseendran's influence that had prevented the police from taking
action on the basis of the complaint his daughter had filed. The police are yet to file an FIR in the case.
It was on June 28 that the woman had filed a complaint with the Kundara police station alleging that NCP state executive member G Padmakaran had caught hold of her hand and attempted to molest her inside the hotel of the accused. The incident had happened in March.
Though her father is an NCP member, the complainant is a BJP member who had contested the local body polls in 2020. She was active in the BJP even after the polls.
Saseendran conceded on Tuesday that the audio clip featured his voice.
He said he had called only to know what the issue was as both the parties were NCP members. He said the police inaction should be probed.
NCP backs Saseendran
The NCP, too, has thrown its weight behind the minister. NCP state chief P C Chacko hinted that the audio leak could have been a conspiracy to trap the minister. He also said that there were no moral issues involved.
Saseendran has reportedly told the chief minister that he intervened thinking it was an internal issue. He maintained that he had no idea that it involved molestation. Saseendran also told the chief minister that he was the victim of the factional feud within the NCP.
The accused person, NCP executive member G Padmakaran has denied the charge that he had caught hold of the complainant's hand inside his hotel. According to Padmakaran, the hotel is a crowded place and if at all such an incident had taken place there would have been witnesses.
CM should oust Saseendran
Leader of the Opposition V D Satheeesan on Wednesday demanded that the chief minister oust Saseendran from his Cabinet immediately. He said Saseendran should not be in the assembly when the House meets tomorrow.
"The minister has committed a serious offence by demanding the woman to withdraw her complaint. He has misused his power and influence. He does not deserve to continue in his position," the Congress leader told reporters.
"Is this how the CPM runs its woman empowerment campaign. Can the CM still raise his voice for the cause of women," he asked.
Satheesan said the opposition would raise the issue aggressively in the assembly.
Complainant won't speak to NCP panel
The complainant woman has decided not to depose before a panel constituted by the NCP to probe her allegations. She decided not to cooperate with the panel since she is a BJP member. However, her parents would talk to the committee.
NCP state general secretary Mathews George heads the panel.