KOCHI: The acquittal of former Kerala Transport Minister A.K Saseendran from a ‘sleaze phone call’ case has come as a relief to him, his Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), but the moral issue it has raised may continue to haunt all the three. The Thiruvananthapuram Chief Judicial Magistrate on Saturday acquitted him after hearing the woman complainant who denied the allegation against the NCP leader.
In her statement, she said she was not sure whether it was the former minister who made the sleazy talks.
Saseendran had resigned after the Mangalam television channel aired the lewd conversation with the woman on its launch on March 25, 2017. Though he alleged that the audio clip was doctored he did not disown his conversation with the woman.
The channel had initially claimed that the woman was a housewife who had approached the minister for a favour but later changed the version saying that she was a member of its editorial team who had volunteered to expose him in a sting operation.
The case against Saseendran was filed on the basis of a private complaint filed by the scribe on April 5. In her complaint, the journalist had alleged that Saseendran had sexually harassed her when she went to his residence for an interview for the channel.
On the basis of the complaint, a case was registered for sexual harassment (section 354A of Indian Penal Code), stalking (section 354D), and insulting modesty of woman (section 509). Earlier the police had arrested the channel CEO and four journalists involved in the operation for “honey-trapping” the minister.
Earlier, a judicial commission set up by the government to probe the incident had given a clean chit to Saseendran and recommended action against the Mangalam channel and the journalists involved in the honey trapping. The commission headed by former district judge PS Antony concluded that the channel had trapped the minister.
The case had seen several twists and turns. The journalist had approached the state high court on November 10 saying she had amicably settled the case with the accused. However, she withdrew the settlement petition on January 5, reverting the case back to the trial court.
The journalist took another U turn when the case came up for hearing at the chief judicial magistrate’s court. A public interest petition against accepting her plea was filed in the court but the court dismissed it. The petitioner had alleged that the journalist involved in the case was not giving a true statement out of fear.
The NCP, which lost its representation in the cabinet after Saseendran’s successor Thomas Chandy resigned in a land grabbing cases, has staked its claim for returning the ministerial birth to the acquitted leader. Saseendran, who met Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan at Kannur, said he had got a green signal to return to the cabinet.
NCP state president T P Peethambaran Master said he will give the party’s consent after talks with party chief Sharad Pawar in Delhi on Sunday. Party spokesman Pradeep Prakkadan said there was neither any legal nor moral bar for Saseendran to return to the ministry.
“If Saseendran wanted he could return to the ministry after the Antony commission gave him a clean chit in its report submitted to the state government on November 11. He waited till the resolution of the case in the court in keeping with the high standard of morality and public life. This is a moment of glory for the party,” he claimed.
However, the opposition Congress said there was nothing in the acquittal for NCP to be proud of. Senior party leader Joseph Vazhakkan said Saseendran would have been behind the bars if the journalist had stood by her original statement.
“The court has exonerated him based on her statement. She might have been either influenced or threatened to withdraw the statement,” he said.
Vazhakkan pointed out that Saseendran had never denied his voice in the audio clip. This shows that he had lewd talks with the woman. He stepped down from the ministry on his own taking a high moral ground.
“Keralites will have to bow their head in shame if the minister returns to the cabinet,” he said.