Speculation mounts he has been asked to quit as Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman

Just seven days before the commencement of the Budget session of Parliament, Congress president Sonia Gandhi finally gave a 10-minute audience to P.J. Kurien, now under pressure from the Opposition to step down as Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson because of his alleged involvement in the 17-year-old Suryanelli rape case in Kerala.

Mr. Kurien’s meeting with Ms. Gandhi on Thursday comes a day after he called on Rajya Sabha Chairperson Hamid Ansari. On both occasions, he is believed to have repeated what he wrote in his letters to them a few days ago — that the courts had exonerated him and that he was the victim of a Left-sponsored conspiracy in Kerala.

Meanwhile, as speculation on whether Mr. Kurien has been asked to resign raged here, sources close to him said they had “no reason to either confirm or deny such a conclusion.” However, Congress sources did admit that until the accusations against him were put to rest, it might be difficult for Mr. Kurien to preside over the Upper House, especially when the ordinance to check crimes against women comes up for discussion there.

Initially, Mr. Kurien, party sources said, felt that since Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley had been his lawyer in the case, the BJP would not demand his resignation. But after he gave an interview to a newspaper, pointing out that Mr. Jaitley had been his lawyer, the BJP, these sources said, was forced to join the Left parties in demanding his resignation — making his continuance as Deputy Chairperson somewhat tenuous.

For the Congress, the ratification of the ordinance, dealing with sexual assaults, is extremely important in the battle to prove its sincerity in checking crimes against women: party sources say the Congress, therefore, cannot allow a shadow to be cast over it.

Mr. Kurien, asked what had transpired in his conversation with Ms. Gandhi and whether he had been asked to step down, said: “I will not comment. I will not divulge what was discussed in my meeting with the Congress president. This is not for media.”

This comes a day after he had rejected demands for his resignation. Dismissing the allegations made by the only convict in the case against him, he said on Wednesday, “There is nothing new in the so-called revelations. It is the same allegations which the courts had inquired into and found it humanly impossible…Can anybody resign because some convict is making allegations?”

Within the Kerala unit of the Congress, opinion is divided on whether he should continue in his current position.

More In: NEW DELHI | NATIONAL