The Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Kerala may be ideological opponents, but they put aside their differences on Sunday to come to the defence of the Communist icon AK Gopalan, popularly known as AKG, after a Congress legislator accused him of being a paedophile. The legislator, VT Balram, made his controversial comments in a Facebook post on January 4.
Addressing meetings across the state on Sunday, senior leaders from both parties described AKG as a mass leader who fought for the rights of the poor. AKG was the leader of the Opposition in the first Lok Sabha. He died in 1977.
Balram, who represents Thrithala Assembly constituency in Palakkad district, wrote the post while responding to an allegation from a Communist supporter that many Congress leaders had sexually harassed the main accused in the solar scam. The judicial commission report on the scam, which was tabled in the Assembly in November, said that prominent leaders of the Congress-led United Democratic Front received bribes and sexual favours from those accused in the deal.
Balram faced an online backlash for his post – his inbox was inundated with abusive messages. But he wrote a more detailed Facebook post on January 5 in which he attempted to justify his comments by questioning the age difference between AKG and his wife Susheela Gopalan, who was 25 years younger than him.
Quoting from the Communist leader’s autobiography Ente Jeevitha Katha or My Life Story, Balram said AKG met Susheela Gopalan for the first time in the early 1940s, when she was a young girl. That was the time AKG was in hiding – he stayed at her family’s home in Alappuzha for three months. They married in 1952.
Susheela Gopalan went on to become a senior party leader. She was the founding leader of the All India Democratic Women’s Association. She represented Alappuzha and Chirayinkeezhu in Parliament and held the industries portfolio in the state cabinet. She died in 2001.
Chief minister leads attack
“AKG was a Congress leader who had fought for independence,” Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday morning. “He was the leader of the masses…Balram is ignorant of the history of his own party and the life story of AKG. The Congress should explain whether ignorance is its hallmark.”
CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan asked whether the Congress would suspend Balram as it had done last month with Mani Shankar Aiyar, after the party leader called Prime Minister Narendra Modi a “neech kisam ka aadmi” – a low-life kind of person.
Even senior Congress leaders criticised Balram.
“He has crossed the limit,” said Oommen Chandy in Kottayam on Sunday. “He should not have made such derogatory remarks against AKG.”
Describing AKG as a mass leader, Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president MM Hassan said: “The Congress does not endorse Balram’s views.”
Balram has evaded disciplinary action by the party so far. “We have warned him not to make such comments in future,” Hassan said in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday.
Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala also regretted Balram’s words, saying that party leaders should refrain from making derogatory public statements. “The Congress does not agree to targeting political leaders,” he said in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday.
AKG’s son-in-law reacts
Communist leader and Kasargod MP P Karunakaran, who is married to AKG and Susheela Gopalan’s daughter Laila, asked Balram to get acquainted with the life of the two Communist leaders. “The ridiculous statements have exposed Balram,” Karunakaran told Scroll.in. “He doesn’t have common sense or historical sense…His [Balram’s] irresponsible comments will pain anyone who knows the two leaders.”
Karunakaran added that freedom of expression did not allow people to malign the reputation of leaders of yesteryears. “Balram should correct his mistake,” he said.
Balram remained defiant. On Sunday, again on Facebook, he took a dig at Vijayan in an apparent response to the chief minister’s comments on AKG being a leader of the masses. Balram argued that former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and not AKG, was the actual leader of the poor. He wrote: “Singh lifted millions of Indians out of poverty and made them middle class with his revolutionary liberalisation policies. But Vijayan’s cabinet colleague MM Mani described him as a prime minister who went to United States only to booze. Hope the CPI(M) leadership will correct their arrogant leaders.”