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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Kerala minister Saji Cheriyan resigns amid protests over his anti-Constitution remark

Though Cheriyan maintained that the decision to quit was his own, indications are that he was nudged to do so by the party on a day of hectic parley.

By: Express News Service | Thiruvananthapuram |
Updated: July 7, 2022 7:02:10 am
Governor Arif Mohammed Khan accepted the resignation and allocated the portfolios held by Saji Cheriyan to the chief minister, according to a Raj Bhavan tweet. (PTI)

Kerala minister Saji Cheriyan on Wednesday announced his resignation over his controversial remarks against the Constitution at the end of a day of hectic parley amidst mounting criticism from various quarters, not least from the Opposition Congress and the BJP.

Apparently succumbing to pressure from the CPI (M) central leadership, Cheriyan — a senior leader who held cultural affairs, fisheries and youth affairs portfolios in the cabinet — met media persons at the chief minister’s office (CMO) and announced that he had handed over his resignation to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Cheriyan is the first minister to resign from the second Left Democratic Front (LDF) government headed by Vijayan.

Governor Arif Mohammed Khan accepted the resignation and allocated the portfolios held by him to the chief minister, according to a Raj Bhavan tweet.

Speaking at a party function in Pathanamthitta on Monday, Cheriyan had said that the Constitution endorses the exploitation and loot of the common people. “I would say the Constitution has been written in such a manner as to ensure that the maximum number of people are looted. What the British prepared, Indians penned down. Over the last 75 years that it has been implemented, I would say this is a Constitution that ensures the exploitation of the maximum number of people in the country,” he had said.

As the Opposition Congress and the BJP took to the streets demanding Cheriyan’s resignation over the comment, he said that his remarks were distorted and even on Wednesday morning maintained that he would not resign over the issue.

After attending a meeting of the available state secretariat at AKG Centre in Thiruvananthapuram, Cheriyan responded to questions on whether he would be resigning with a query of his own — “Why?” “…What is the problem? I already said what I had to say yesterday.”

However, at the same time, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury told reporters in New Delhi that the matter was being discussed by the state leadership and “appropriate action” would be taken.

In the morning, the state assembly proceedings were disrupted by the Opposition’s agitations demanding Cheriyan’s resignation leading to the House being adjourned for the day.

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After staging a brief sit-in protest at the portal of the hall with placards, the United Democratic Front (UDF) members gathered in front of the statue of B R Ambedkar at the assembly campus and raised slogans accusing Cheriyan of “insulting’ the architect of the Constitution through his harsh remarks. Besides that, there were protests in various parts of Kerala demanding his resignation.

In the evening, Kanam Rajendran, state secretary of CPI, the second-largest party in the LDF government, said that his party would react on the issue only after the CPI(M) decided on its due course of action.

Around 5.30 pm, Cheriyan appeared before the media and announced his resignation and said that it was his own decision to quit. He insisted that it was never his intention to disrespect the Constitution for which he has the “highest regard and respect”.

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“I was hurt by such a portrayal of what I had said. I also believe it was aimed at destabilising the ruling Left government,” he said and reiterated that he had no intention to disrespect the Constitution. He also alleged that it was the Congress and the BJP which have failed many times to uphold the majesty of the Constitution.

Welcoming his resignation, leader of Opposition in the state assembly V D Satheesan, as well as other senior Congress leaders, said Cheriyan had not expressed any regret over his remarks nor had the chief minister, his party or the CPI(M) politburo indicated their stand on the speech.

Satheesan further said: “We sought the resignation because it was a dangerous stand he took through that speech. He was toeing the Sangh Parivar line. Why is CPI(M) not taking any stand in this matter? The Congress party feels that he should also resign his MLA post.”

“The police case will continue as he did a criminal offence. He does not have any privilege. The CM should express his opinion about this incident. Why is he not responding to this controversy?” he added.

Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) chief K Sudhakaran said it was good that Cheriyan exited without much protest.”Our Constitution is special as this is the only one which calls for unity in diversity. If this Constitution is weakened, then our country will be lost,” he added.

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BJP state chief K Surendran too expressed a similar view and added that the protests would not stop with Cheriyan’s resignation. “It seems like he still stands by what he had said in the speech. Cheriyan has not so far rendered a public apology. Neither the CPI(M) nor the Chief Minister have said Cheriyan’s speech was anti-Constitutional. The disrespect towards the Constitution still continues,” Surendran said.

“He is not absolved from his crime just because he resigned from his minister post. Cheriyan must publicly apologise and resign from the MLA post. If he does not resign from the MLA post, then we will move legally,” he added.

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The day also saw a magistrate court at Thiruvalla in Pathanamthitta district directing the Keezhvaipur police to register a case against Cheriyan on the basis of a plea moved by an Ernakulam-based lawyer for allegedly insulting the Constitution, according to PTI.

A leader close to CM Vijayan

A two-time MLA and first-time minister, Cheriyan has represented the Chengannur constituency in the state assembly since 2018. The 57-year-old leader is considered as a strongman of the ruling party in Alappuzha district and a confidante of CM Vijayan.

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Beginning his political career as a student leader of the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) and Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), Cheriyan also held various party posts during his decade-long political life. Though he contested for the first time in the 2006 assembly election, he lost to Congress’ P C Vishnunath.

He was elected to the House as legislator in the byelection in 2018 from Chengannur constituency by a record margin. During the 2021 assembly election, he won the seat by a margin of over 30,000 votes beating his nearest rival.

The first Pinarayi Vijayan government saw the resignation of at least four ministers over various controversies — E P Jayarajan, A K Saseendran, Thomas Chandy and K T Jaleel. Of them, Saseendran and Jayarajan had been re-inducted into the cabinet after sometime.

Another minister, Mathew T Thomas also quit from the first Vijayan government but as part of his party, JD(S)’ decision for the induction of K Krishnankutty into the then cabinet.

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(With inputs from PTI)

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First published on: 06-07-2022 at 06:35:35 pm

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