Remember MM Mani? The senior Communist Party of India (CPM) leader from Kerala had in 2012 openly stated that his party had killed political enemies in his home district Idukki.
The Power Minister of Kerala is hitting the headlines for two of his recent comments. On 22 April, Mani called Devikulam sub-collector Sriram Venkitaraman “a mad man” and said that he should be sent to Oolampara (a famous mental hospital in Thiruvananthapuram).
30-year-old Sriram – a doctor-turned IAS officer – is a popular and dynamic bureaucrat of Kerala. He has started an anti-encroachment drive in Munnar, inviting the ire of powerful land mafia linked to the ruling CPM. Sriram is on a mission to save Munnar, an ecologically-sensitive place known for its rich biological diversity. Situated at around 1,600 metres above the sea level in the Western Ghats, Munnar has some exceptional natural attractions.
Sriram’s anti-encroachment drive reached a crossroads when his team demolished an illegal cross situated at a government land at Pappathichola in Munnar.
“In Idukki, most religious establishments are located on land that do not have clear title deed. Devikulam sub-collector Sriram Venkitaraman is a mad man. He should be sent to Oolampara,” Mani said.
Mani did not stop there. He branded the young IAS officer a “RSS agent” and said that the cross was demolished just like the Babri Masjid was pulled down in Ayodhya.
The powerful church lobby, which is close to the ruling CPM, is flexing their muscles in the issue even as the civil society of Kerala sees the demolition of the illegal cross as a legitimate move.
Young IAS officer Sriram from Kerala removed illegal Cross in Govt land. Church flex muscles. CM admonishes. Ministers call him RSS agent!
— J Gopikrishnan (@jgopikrishnan70) April 23, 2017
But instead of reprimanding him for stoking communal feelings, communists appear okay with this kind of mixing of religion with politics. In fact, CPM leader Prakash Babu brought in some more religion. “What I can say about Mani is to repeat what Jesus said — Forgive them, for they know not what they are doing,” he said, while state CPM secretary refused to comment.
This is not the only comment though that has put Mani in tight spot. On 22 April night, while addressing a public meeting in Idukki, the Kerala Power Minister went on to question the character of female plantation workers. Mani was referring to a 2015 strike by women plantation workers in Mannur. The strike had forced the then Oommen Chandy government to hike their wages.
Mani said he knew what all went on during the strike by ‘Pembulai Orumae’ (Women’s Collective). “It was a stage-managed protest led by vested interests. I know what all happened. When the strike was on, other activities were taking place in nearby forests,” he said.
Mani’s comments have invited strong condemnation from various quarters. Angered by Mani’s remarks, women plantation workers have launched a protest in Munnar. The opposition has demanded the resignation of the Power Minister.