Ambedkar Statue: Kerala Speaker in controversy
Thiruvananthapuram, April 9: Can an Assembly Speaker, supposed to function beyond party politics, use the position for electoral gains on the eve of elections?
This question has been raised over Kerala Assembly Speaker M. Vijayakumar calling a press conference on April 6 over the prolonged issue of erecting Dr. Ambedkar's statue within the Assembly complex.
According to Vijayakumar, there were "politically motivated deliberate attempts" to drag the Assembly and the Speakers as party into the statue issue. "The issue has not come before me. No political party or groups had so far given a representation on it to me. Definitely, I will give it utmost importance if the demand come before me", he added.
The Speaker also said : "There are certain rules and guidelines to be followed for erection of statue within the Assembly complex. Since these guidelines could not be complied with, the statue of EMS Namboodiripad was erected outside the Assembly premises, though it was not found favours from all Members in the Assembly." He also pointed out that erecting the statue outside the Assembly premises does not come under the jurisdiction of the Assembly, which is limited only within the Assembly complex.
The Speaker also termed the demonstration by Dalit organisations to his house on the issue as "part of deliberate attempts to drag the Speaker and Assembly" into it "to gain political mileage". Vijayakumar also refuted the allegation that he suggested to erect Ambedkar statue somewhere else. "Neither anybody approached me with the demand, nor had I expressed my opinion since it does not fall within my jurisdiction", he said.
The Speaker nevertheless added that the issue is being sorted out by the SC-ST Minister K. Radhakrishnan and Chief Minister E. K. Nayanar.
Several Dalit leaders took strong exceptions to the Speaker's claim that the issue was not brought forward before him. According to P. Ramabhadran, President of Kerala Dalit Federation (KDF), Vijayakumar's realisation that there are about 30,000 Dalit voters in his sitting constituency had compelled him to make the "false claims and statements". As CPM nominee, Vijayakumar is seeking re-election from Thiruvananthapuram North seat in May 10 general elections.
Terming Vijayakumar's claims as contrary to facts, Ramabhadran said : "Several Dalit organisations, including KDF, had given written representations to the Speaker pleading to erect Ambedkar statue within Assembly complex. I myself personally met him at his office and gave the memorandum, copies of which were also given to Chief Minister E. K. Nayanar and Opposition Leader A. K. Antony. We have proof to corroborate this. We do not know whether any political parties had raised the demand, which has to be explained by them." According to Ramabhadran, it was the Speaker who is indulging in spreading falsehood to counter the strengthened agitation by Dalits over the statue issue in order to take political mileage over it by wooing the Dalit voters in his constituency. The KDF leader also declared that by mobilising the collective strength of all Dalits, the Ambedkar statue would be erected in front of the Assembly on April 14, 2002 - the 111th birthday Jayanthi of Dr. Ambedkar.
According to B. S. Satheesan, Chairman of Action Council for erection of Ambedkar statue, the Speaker was trying to pass the buck to Minister Radhakrishnan in an attempt to avoid the wrath of Dalit voters in his constituency. Reiterating that the Speaker's claim was false and baseless, Satheesan, who was also former Deputy Mayor of Thiruvananthapuram, said : "After occupying power in 1996, the present LDF Government sabotaged the decision of earlier UDF government to erect Ambedkar statue in front of the Assembly. Insteady, they constructed a platform at Bakery Junction to shift the statue. However, following protests from Dalits, the government abandoned this move. When several Dalit organisations started agitation demanding erection of the statue in front of the Assembly, the Government took another decision to erect it at LMS Junction. This was also opposed by Dalits by staging prolonged agitations both in front of the Secretariate and Assembly. Yet, the Speaker's feigning ignorance over the issue is nothing but to escape from the wrath of Dalit voters in his constituency."
As several other Dalit bodies also issued similar statements, the question revolves over the propriety of the Speaker in using his position to call a Press Conference to gain political advantage in his constituency. This is especially so since the Speaker opted to call the press meet over the issue after the last session of the 10th Assembly was over and after the Election Commissioner issued notifications for the 11th Assembly general elections due on May 10, with Vijayakumar as a ruling party contestant in one of the capital city constituencies.
Question is also being raised as to why the Speaker refrained from making these claims last month when Dalit activists stormed into the Assembly and stalled the session demanding erection of Ambedkar statue, and when elections were not notified by the EC. (See March 7 report on this site for details).