The Suryanelli case in Kerala cast its lengthening shadow over the Congress on Thursday, with the rape victim’s mother asking party president Sonia Gandhi to act against Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman P. J. Kurien, whom she places at the heart of the 40-day-long nightmare her daughter underwent 17 years ago — a crime for which not one of the 42 accused persons has been punished to date. The woman says she is making the appeal to Ms. Gandhi since she is both president of the country’s oldest political party and mother of a daughter.

The woman, after giving details of the family’s efforts over the years to pin down Mr Kurien, asks Ms. Gandhi whether it is right that he should chair a discussion in the Rajya Sabha on the ordinance which seeks to bring in a tougher law for crimes against women. “Such a situation will … tarnish the image of your great party, which has a glorious history in protecting the weaker sex of the country.”

For the Congress leadership, which brought the ordinance three weeks ahead of the budget session of Parliament as proof of its sincere desire to tackle an issue that has rocked the country — increasing sexual assaults on women — this letter just adds to its problems. The party's options, Congress sources said, on how to deal with Mr. Kurien are narrowing as it is now a question of the party’s image versus the career of one politician, no matter what the truth is.

Recalling the episode that devastated not just the life of her daughter — then a 16-year-old schoolgirl — but of the entire family, the 70-year-old retired nurse accuses Mr. Kurien, then a Central minister, of misusing his position to ensure that his name was not on the list of the accused, and forcing the victim to file a private complaint against him. That finally ended, she admits, with ...the Supreme Court discharging him. And, currently, she alleges, her plea to reopen the investigations against Mr. Kurien is not being heard because of the “political compulsions” of the Congress.

The victim’s mother has sent copies of the letter to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and to Ms. Gandhi’s political secretary, Ahmed Patel, as well.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kurien is camping in the capital, waiting for an appointment with the Congress president to present his side of the case.

Speaking to The Hindu on Thursday, Mr. Kurien said the courts — right up to the Supreme Court — had absolved him of all charges made against him twice, that two sets of investigations had found nothing against him and that a Left Democratic Front government in Kerala, which had planned to launch a CBI enquiry against him, eventually decided against it. He accused the LDF also of raising the issue on the eve of elections, as in 1996, or during elections, as in 1998, and now one year ahead of the general elections.

“I won six consecutive Lok Sabha elections from 1980 onwards and the Left could not take it — so they ensure the allegations surface repeatedly.” Why should the victim play into the Left’s hands? Mr. Kurien claims that the family of the girl has been “persuaded” to cooperate with the Left.

What of the fact that she recognised his photograph in a newspaper, when she initially named him in 1996? Mr. Kurien dismisses it as a case of mistaken identity.

Kottayam Special Correspondent reports:

The Suryanelli scandal exploded on the Kerala political scene following the Supreme Court’s decision to annul the acquittals of 34 of the 35 accused and its directive to the Kerala High Court to consider the case afresh.

Mr. Kurien’s alleged role came to the fore once again after the victim wrote to her counsel in the Supreme Court, enquiring whether her charges against him could be revived. The Opposition has been on the offensive ever since, pushing for a reinvestigation and resignation of Mr. Kurien.

The United Democratic Front government led by Oommen Chandy had taken the stand that there was nothing new in the girl’s statement.

Her mother’s letter to Ms. Gandhi says “most of the investigating officials had advised us to spare Mr. Kurien since that would have adversely affected our case. But my child still stands by her word.

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