With the Left Democratic Front’s term drawing to a close, Kerala is in election mode. The first sign of the poll season was a foundation laying spree. Then came a surer sign: a sex scandal. Many of the projects for which foundation stones are laid are not new. The sex scandal, too, is not new.
For three decades, the LDF, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and the United Democratic Front, led by the Congress, have been voted to office in the state in alternate elections. As such, it is now the UDF’s turn. Having done well in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and, rather unexpectedly, in last year’s panchayat poll too, the UDF was brimming with confidence. Having been drubbed in two successive elections and having lost two allies, the Janata Dal (S) and the Kerala Congress (Joseph), the CPI (M) was seeking to refurbish its image damaged by the differing signals sent out by Chief Minister and state party secretary throughout the life of this government.
Suddenly, a sex scandal that refuses to die darkened the political landscape, casting gloom over the entire UDF camp. The ice cream parlour case, as it is known, was one of half a dozen sex scandals that broke in the 1990s, in which the names of several VIPs cropped up. Its central character is P. K. Kunhalikutty, general secretary of the Indian Union Muslim League, the second largest constituent of the UDF. He was not among the accused in the case but he had to bow out of the last UDF government as one of the victims named him in a television interview.
Getting wind of another television bomb being readied by his detractors, Kunhalikutty announced at a news conference that K.A. Rauf, husband of his wife’s younger sister, was preparing a video to blackmail him and posing a threat to his life. When he was Industry Minister, Rauf had figured in media reports as a fixer. He admitted having shown him favours and vowed not to yield to blackmail again. Rauf appeared before television cameras immediately and confessed to his role in bribing girls to keep Kunhalikutty’s name out of their testimony. Malayalam news channel Indiavision aired a report which, it said, it had been working on for four months, based on information provided by Rauf. It included secretly filmed sequences in which a former government prosecutor refers to bribing of two judges who had handled issues relating the parlour case in the high court. The ex-prosecutor disowned the statement and the ex-judges denied the allegation.
The LDF quickly moved in to cash in on the fallout. The police registered cases on the basis of the media reports, the government explored the possibility of reopening of the parlour case in the light of the new revelations, and party leaders made it the main talking point.
The UDF was in disarray. It was Indiavision, which had first telecast the interview which cost Kunhalikutty his ministership in 2004. Its chairman, M. K. Muneer, who too is an IUML leader and former minister, distanced himself from the reports damaging to his senior colleague saying he does not interfere in the freedom of the editorial department and was unaware of what it was doing. Some elements in the UDF may not be unhappy over the developments as they can be used to rein in the IUML. Muslims in the northern parts having been slow in taking to family planning, the community’s population had registered considerable growth, leading to an increase in the number of Assembly seats from the region. As the dominant party of the region, IUML has a strong claim to the additional seats.
Sex scandals have been talked about at every election in the past 15 years. However, they have not impeded the swing of pendulum so far. Also, which front is in power and which front the VIP suspects belong to have made little difference to the handling of the cases.