Kerala minister Saji Cheriyan resigns over Constitution remarks controversy
Cheriyan’s criticism of the Constitution has pushed the CPI(M) into yet another controversy; the minister said he was misquoted, but calls for his resignation were growing louder
Kerala Fisheries and Cultural Affairs Minister Saji Cheriyan’s contentious remarks about the Constitution have dragged the government and the ruling party CPI(M) into yet another mess. On Wednesday evening, Cheriyan resigned from his post.
“CPI(M) is a party committed to protect and uphold the values of the Constitution,” Cheriyan told mediapersons on Wednesday. “India is going through an unusual political situation in which the CPI(M) is fighting a battle across the country to protect the Constitution. We have come across several instances in history in which Constitutional values were at stake , emergency was an example. The first communist government in Kerala was dismissed by invoking Article 356 . The BJP is doing many similar things that put the Constitution in danger, like the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), and the CPI(M) is constantly fighting the same.”
“I understand that the Chief Minister (Pinarayi Vijayan) sought the advice of the DGP (Director General of Prosecution). I don’t know the outcome of the same. Whatever it is, I take this decision to resign from the Cabinet. I take moral responsibility for what I said,” he added. “I never intended to insult the constitution.”
However, it is clear that the central leadership of CPI(M) and Pinarayi were adamant in his case. His claim that he took a decision by himself did not convince too many political observers. On the other hand, the CPI(M) will seriously look into the factional feud within the district that led to the leaking of the video to the press. It was a party function in which no media was present.
The call for his resignation had been getting louder. Besides the Opposition intensifying its protests, many known Leftists in the state said the minister must not continue in power. Opposition leader VD Satheeshan alleged that the minister had violated the oath by making derogatory remarks against the Constitution.
“The Chief Minister and CPI (M) should make it clear whether they agree with the minister and share his view about the Constitution. Let him continue if they do, if not, the minister should step down,” he told the media. According to Opposition leaders, the minister’s statement against the Constitution is not “fair criticism”.
Ridiculing and dismissing the very spirit of the Constitution is a violation of the Oath taken while swearing in as a member of the legislative assembly, said Satheeshan. Further, he accused Cheriyan of echoing the RSS’ views by dismissing the Constitution. “What he said is similar to what is written by MS Golwalkar in his book Bunch of Thoughts,” alleged Satheeshan.
Speaking at a party function in Pathanamthitta on Monday (July 4), Cheriyan had said that the Constitution of the country is a document that facilitates looting. “The Indian Constitution is not fair to the labour class as there is no protection for them in it, instead it talks of some stupid things like secularism and democracy. The Constitution is what the British dictated, just that it has been written by an Indian. It allows loot of the country but has nothing for the labourer. In cases concerning the working classes, the judiciary favours businessmen like the Adanis and Ambanis,” he had said.
“Since inception, the Constitution has been supporting exploitation and the working class people have been suffering,” he added. Cheriyan also dismissed the concepts of secularism and democracy enshrined in the Constitution, referring to them in colloquial slang to suggest that the concepts are insignificant.
Shortly after the video of the speech was aired by the media, Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan reportedly summoned the minister and asked him to explain himself to the public and apologise. In his defence, Cheriyan blamed the media for ‘misinterpreting’ his words and said that he had never intended to criticise the Constitution.
The minister also apologised. Despite his apology, the situation has not changed with the Left handles on social media expressing resentment. They said that nothing short of his resignation would resolve the crisis.
However, no senior leaders of CPI(M) or the LDF have come forward in support of the minister. Though the Opposition has been demanding Kerala CM to make a statement, he has remained silent on the controversy.
Demand in Assembly
On Wednesday, the Opposition, however, interrupted the proceedings of the Assembly as soon as it was convened. The demand raised by the Opposition to move an adjournment motion to discuss the matter of Cheriyan’s anti-Constitution remarks was not approved by the Speaker. The members in the Opposition bench shouted slogans and disrupted the proceedings. Though the Speaker tried to start the question hour, the Opposition members continued shouting slogans demanding the minister’s resignation and the Speaker adjourned the assembly for the day.
CPI(M) convened a meeting to discuss the matter. However, no leaders, including the CM, have made any public statement on the issue. As far as the CPI(M) is concerned, Cheriyan’s statement pushed the party into yet another controversy in addition to the allegations of the Kerala CM’s involvement in gold and dollar smuggling.
Not the first time
This is not the first time Saji Cheriyan has made provocative statements putting the party in an awkward situation. He criticised the ‘Women in Cinema Collective’ for pressuring the government to publish the report of the committee headed by Justice Hema on gender-based issues in the Malayalam film industry. On another occasion, he invited the displeasure of human right activists by lambasting Anupama, whose newborn child was given for adoption by the State Child Welfare Council. His misogynistic remarks often irk women right activists who otherwise favour Left parties.
Cheriyan won the Chengannur constituency in the by-election in 2018 and retained the seat in the 2021 general election. Chengannur in Alappuzha District was one of the worst-hit places in the 2018 floods. His interventions during the floods made him extremely popular in the constituency and led to his emphatic victory in 2021.
Chengannur is one of the few constituencies in Kerala where BJP has a hold. Cheriyan bagged 49 per cent votes, despite BJP having a consistent 24 per cent vote share in the constituency since 2016. Chengannur is one of the testing laboratories of BJP in the south, and is a constituency which houses the Sabarimala temple. As far as the CPI (M) is concerned, to ask for the resignation of Saji Cheriyan who has good clout across all communities cutting across party lines, will prove costly.
Several complaints have already been lodged in different places against Cheriyan regarding his statement on the Constitution. A complaint registered with the district police commissioner in Pathanamthitta has been forwarded for investigation. A lawyer moved a petition in the first class magistrate court of Thiruvalla in Kottayam directing the police to move criminal proceedings against the minister.