Kerala Speaker and senior Congress leader Sakthan Nadar has landed in a controversy after Madhyamam's Media One TV channel captured his driver putting on the straps of his footwear at a public function to celebrate the harvesting of paddy cultivated in the legislative assembly garden on 14 October.
In the clip, the driver was caught fixing the straps of the speaker's sandals before he got into the act of cutting the paddy which assembly employees had sown and cultivated to fruition.
The speaker came under attack from various quarters for allegedly asking his driver to perform the undignified menial task which commentators said was not befitting of an elected representative of the people.
Madhyamam aired the photo on Thursday morning and other TV channels picked up the story airing it continuously, prompting the speaker to call an urgent press conference.
At the press conference, the speaker claimed that he had been long suffering from a rare disease relating to the optic nerve and the doctors had ordered him not to bend down and perform actions that might accentuate his condition.
He claimed that he had not asked his driver to fix his footwear and said that he was a close associate who often helped him do many needful things every day given his ailment.
"I'm diagnosed with a rare disease which damaged a vain causing an impairment to my vision in one eye completely and partially in the other. So, the doctors have advised me not to bend or lift weight," Sakthan told reporters.
The speaker refuted charges that he was fostering a culture of subservience which was feudal in nature. He stated without ambiguity that he was fully against any such actions on the part of anyone and that this incident was entirely natural and inadvertent and not due to his demand.
"The aide who removed the footwear was my relative named Biju. He has been assisting me for the past eighteen years due to the ailment. I didn't ask him to remove my footwear," said Sakthan.
He cited his 32 years of public service as proof of his humility and closeness to the people of his legislative constitutency and others and said: "I have always respected all the people and the media and I am sad that this has been blown up into a controversy."
Earlier, Kerala Opposition leader VS Achuthanandan said, "This was a shameful incident involving the high office of the Speaker which should have never have occured in the first place."
Writer and social activist Sara Joseph, who recently returned her Sahitya Akademi award protesting the rise of intolerance and curbing of freedom of expression under the Modi government, also criticised the incident. "Under no circumstances should such an incident have taken place. These actions are reminiscent of feudalism," she said.
Former finance minister and CPI(M) leader Thomas Isaac said: "This sort of thing used to happen more than 50 years ago. Such practices were eliminated after very strong protests and social movements. It is shameful that such an incident took place."
The high level of publicity the incident has garnered is, it is feared, will affect the prospects of the UDF in the forthcoming local body elections beginning November 2, in certain belts in southern Travancore.