Kerala Assembly Speaker courts controversy as driver helps him wear footwear

Thiruvananthapuram: In a bid to put an end to the controversy after his driver was seen helping him wear sandals, Kerala Assembly Speaker N Sakthan on Thursday clarified it was not a deliberate act but his health condition warranted the help of another person to wear footwear with straps.

"Is it such a grave mistake to seek help of a person to wear sandals if one is suffering from a disease that does not permit him to bend too much," Sakthan asked at a press conference convened at the assembly complex here to explain his position on the incident.

The Congress leader said he was suffering from a rare eye disease where sometimes there would be internal bleeding in the eyes that would block his eyesight.

"I am suffering from this disease for the past 19 years... doctors have advised that I should not stand in sunlight for long, bend too much and lift weight.

"The driver Biju, a relative who helped me wear the footwear, is with me for the past several years and is aware of the disease. He used to accompany me wherever I toured in the state to take care of my personal needs," he said.

"I am sad that a small matter like this has become a controversy, he said, adding, it might be due to lack of knowledge about the disease.

Many senior Congress leaders and opposition LDF also know about the disease, Sakthan said.

Meanwhile, expressing solidarity with Sakthan, Kerala Legislators Secretariat Association condemned dragging the speaker into a controversy in connection with a function organised to spread the message of organic farming.

Association general secretary S Jayakumar said the Speaker always adopted a very favourable approach towards the problems of assembly staff and took the lead in taking up several development schemes in the complex.

The incident occurred at a function held in connection with the harvesting of paddy cultivated inside the Assembly garden yesterday in which the speaker and State Agriculture Minister K M Mohanan took part. Assembly employees had cultivated paddy in a small piece of land as part of moves to promote organic farming.

Visuals aired by television channels this morning showed the driver sitting on the floor and putting on straps of Sakthan's sandal, watched by assembly staff.

The incident drew flak from different quarters including leaders of CPI(M)-led LDF Opposition. In a similar incident in August, Maharashtra Rural Development Minister Pankaja Munde courted controversy after a staff member was seen carrying her slippers during her tour of drought-affected regions in the state.

Meanwhile, Biju said he had on his own rushed to help the Speaker wear footwear.

"I have done it on my own. I have no complaints," Biju, who has been with Sakthan for the past 17 years, said. Biju said he was standing at a distance and saw the Speaker was having difficulty wearing his footwear after the function.

"I saw sir's difficulty and ran to help him. Sir said 'venda, venda' (don't do it, don't do it). KPCC President V M Sudheeran said the Speaker has already explained that he had some physical difficulties.

"We have to accept it. There is no need to make the incident controversial," he said.

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