Thiruvananthapuram, April 25 (IANS) With Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan overruling opposition demands for the resignation of State Power Minister M.M. Mani for his controversial remarks on women plantation workers, the Congress-led opposition on Tuesday decided to step up its protest to see that Mani quits.
The decision was taken at a meeting of top leaders of the Congress-led United Democratic Front held here on Tuesday evening. The meeting decided that former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy would go to Munnar to express the UDF’s solidarity with the four women plantation workers who are sitting on protest fast to demand that Mani come personally to their protest venue to apologise and quit.
Addressing reporters after the meeting, Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala said that they will not call off their protest till Mani quits.
“Mani has said that he will quit only if his party – CPI-M – asks him to do so. People in Kerala are now waiting to hear what his party will ask him to do. We will be holding protests all across the 140 assembly constituencies and the UDF legislators will sit in protest in the capital city tomorrow,” said Chennithala.
Chennithala will also write to CPI-M General Secretary Sitaram Yechury demanding the ouster of Mani, who he said has “shamed Kerala by abusing women”, which has never been done by any Kerala Minister before.
Earlier in the day, chaos reigned in the Kerala Assembly which led to the Speaker rushing through the proceedings of the day.
When the House assembled at 8.30 a.m, the Congress-led opposition was on its feet shouting slogans, demanding suspension of Question Hour to take up leave for an adjournment motion to discuss the “indecent” remarks of Mani.
But Speaker P. Sreeramakrishnan said they could raise it at the appropriate time.
Later, moving leave for an adjournment motion, senior Congress leader Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan said it was a “shame” that a State Minister, Mani, has spoken indecently about women and demanded that he step down.
“While all leading CPI-M and CPI leaders have strongly criticised the speech of Mani, Vijayan, who earlier said what Mani spoke was not right, is now defending Mani. We do not know why Vijayan, who has earlier asked E.P. Jayarajan and A.K. Saseendran, to resign, is not asking Mani to quit. Mani claims he is a villager, but he has used abusive words, which are not spoken by villagers. He has to go,” said Radhakrishnan.
Mani on Saturday night had reportedly used abusive words about women plantation workers and since then the Women’s Collective, whom he allegedly abused, has been on a protest demanding an apology.
From Tuesday morning two of the women started an indefinite fast on the issue.
Mani, who was given time to explain his remarks, told the Assembly that he is a simpleton from a village and does not use big literary Malayalam words.
“A section of the media is against me. My words have been twisted out of context. There are just six women now sitting in protest of whom two are from the BJP and Congress and only four are from the Women’s Collective,” said Mani.
Vijayan, replying to the demands of the Opposition, said that Mani has already tendered an unconditional apology and he need not step down.
“He hails from Idukki and his words also are in that style. Some vested interests have blown it out of proportion to make political capital out of it. A section of the media also appears to have twisted his speech,” said Vijayan.
However, dissatisfied with the replies of Vijayan and Mani, Chennithala said that if Mani has done no wrong, then why did he apologise at all.
“While all the women leaders of the CPI-M have condemned Mani’s speech, Vijayan seems unperturbed. None should forget that the CPI-M had tall leaders like EMS and others, and it has come to a stage that today it is led by people like Mani. We are firm that Mani has to go and we will continue our protest till he quits,” said Chennithala.
Soon after his speech the opposition trooped into the well of the house, forcing the Speaker to rush through the proceedings listed for the day and wind up the day’s sitting.
Earlier in the day, Mani was stopped on his way to the Assembly by women activists of the Youth Congress, who were removed by police.
The student and youth wings of the Congress party also protested in front of the Assembly demanding Mani’s ouster, but they were prevented from reaching the assembly by the police.