Cong in quandary as Kurien row spirals

New Delhi, Feb. 8: The Congress leadership is in a fix as protests against P.J. Kurien over his alleged involvement in the 1996 Suryanelli gang rape have snowballed in his home state Kerala even as there is no legal basis for the party to act against him.

The leadership is under pressure as the controversy around the Rajya Sabha deputy chairman has erupted at a time Parliament has to take up the ordinance on crimes against women.

What has made Congress president Sonia Gandhi's job difficult is that Kurien has not been indicted by any court.

The leadership is also suspicious about the political motive behind the timing of the controversy. Kurien has refused to step down saying: "My conscience is clear. I have nothing to worry about. The girl is being used by my political opponents to settle political scores. Courts of the country have given me a clean chit. Why should I be bothered about allegations?"

Extreme unease in the Kerala unit and persistent media coverage were said to have forced a section of the high command to think in terms of removing Kurien, but a party spokesperson denied any such move this evening.

"We cannot take a decision on the basis of emotions. There has to be a legal basis for this and Kurien faces no case in any court at the moment. No action can be taken on the basis of a charge. If the court reopens the case and an investigation finds something, we will definitely take action," spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury said in response to questions.

The leadership is worried it could set a precedent if it acts on the basis of allegations as there would be hundreds of such charges against elected representatives and ministers all over the country.

The final decision has not been taken and Sonia has so far refused to meet Kurien to listen to his explanation. The Congress will see how things unfold and how the Opposition parties react in Parliament.

There was much unease in the party yesterday when the victim's mother wrote to Sonia expressing anguish over the Congress-led Kerala government's refusal to order further investigations into Kurien's alleged involvement.

Although Kurien was never indicted, the victim has persistently named him as one of those who assaulted her. She sent a letter to the Supreme Court last week asking for a review of the apex court's order quashing charges against Kurien.

Kerala protests

The row echoed inside and outside the Kerala Assembly today with the Left and BJP demanding that Kurien step down immediately and face a fresh inquiry.

"The chief minister (Oommen Chandy) is trying to save Kurien. But we wish to make it clear that no one will be able to save Kurien and we will continue our protests till he resigns," CPM MLA Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said outside the House.

Inside, Speaker G. Karthikeyan admonished four women MLAs who rushed to the podium demanding action against some cops who allegedly manhandled one of them during a march yesterday demanding Kurien's resignation.

On the streets, youth activists of the CPM and the BJP marched to the Assembly. The Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha activists burnt the effigies of all 21 ministers in the Chandy ministry and demanded immediate action against Kurien.

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