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Progressive State, regressive remarks

Despite M.M. Mani’s repeatedly offensive remarks, the CPI(M) has not held him accountable 

July 20, 2022 12:15 am | Updated 12:15 am IST

M.M. Mani in Thiruvananthapuram.

M.M. Mani in Thiruvananthapuram. | Photo Credit: S. Mahinsha

The CPI(M) legislator M.M. Mani’s comments against MLA Revolutionary Marxist Party of India (RMPI) leader K.K. Rema has triggered a furore in Kerala. Mr. Mani, who represents the Udumbanchola constituency in Idukki and who was Electricity Minister in the first Pinarayi Vijayan government, is not new to controversy. But Mr. Mani, popularly known as Maniyasan, remains unrepentant and refuses to admit that he has crossed the line of civilised debate.

Mr. Mani’s unsavoury comment that it was Ms. Rema’s fate to become the widow of slain Revolutionary Marxist Party founder-leader T. P. Chandrasekharan elicited a sharp response from CPI leader Annie Raja, leading to an ugly exchange of words between the two alliance partners. The episode provided fresh ammunition for a resurgent Opposition led by the Congress party. Opposition leader V.D. Satheesan said the highly regressive medieval practice of sati too came out of the idea of fate. As Mr. Mani was unwilling to apologise, he said it was up to the Speaker to examine the comments and take a call on expunging them.

Besides lowering the quality of public debate, diverting attention from the State government’s development agenda and making the government’s commitment of ensuring women’s rights sound hollow, Mr. Mani’s comment has also threatened to take the wind out of the LDF’s opposition to the Lok Sabha secretariat’s announcement that certain words and expressions would be considered unparliamentary.

Mr. Mani is not new to controversy. In 2012, as as the CPI(M) Idukki district secretary, he claimed that a list of 13 political opponents to be killed was prepared. In 2016, he was charged by the police for making misogynistic remarks against a woman principal of a local polytechnic. And in 2017, he passed belittling comments against the Pembilai Orumai, a group of women plantation workers, for staging a protest against labour injustice in Munnar.

What is significant is that the CPI(M) has not condemned his remarks. This has led some to feel that Mr. Mani’s comments against Ms. Rema were not unintentional, for the ruling party has been observing the widening support base for Ms. Rema and the RMPI in its strongholds. Of late, the CPI(M) has been targeting Ms. Rema inside and outside the Assembly for her critical remarks against the Left government’s policies.

However, the issue also took a different turn when Mahila Congress workers held a protest against Mr. Mani by holding a cut-out of a chimpanzee with his face on it. Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president K. Sudhakaran justified the act and insulted Mr. Mani initially, but later apologised for the comment through a Facebook post. The women’s affiliate of the Congress also apologised.

The CPI(M)‘s failure

None of the CPI(M)’s women legislators have distanced themselves from Mr. Mani’s comment. Despite Kerala having the highest rating on the Human Development Index in India, only 12 of the total 140 legislators are women. This includes 10 from the LDF. Ms. Rema was the only woman leader from the Congress-led UDF until Uma Thomas, wife of the late senior Congress leader P.T. Thomas, won the Thrikkakara byelection last month.

In today’s world where women are claiming their rightful space in all spheres of activity, Mr. Mani has crossed the line of decency by making ungracious remarks against a woman legislator. It is shameful for a legislator to conclude that widowhood is a woman’s fate. The failure of the CPI (M) leadership to hold Mr. Mani accountable in this regard is politically inappropriate and does not augur well for the democratic traditions of the State.

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