Out on harassment charges, Cong leader back in key position
When the Congress party appointed a secretary to oversee key northeastern states of Tripura, Nagaland and Sikkim last week, they reopened a sexual harassment case that they thought was dealt with last year.
Ranajit Mukherjee, 41, resigned in 2020 after an internal inquiry was conducted by former Rajya Sabha member Rajeev Gowda, head of the party’s research department of which Mukherjee was a member.
The inquiry took place after a member of the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI), the party’s student arm, complained about him in writing, and another colleague in the research department reported “inappropriate behaviour’’ during the 2018 Rajasthan assembly elections.
After Mukherjee’s recent appointment, the women have raised questions about the propriety of assigning a key leadership role to him. While the Congress party hasn’t responded, Mukherjee told HT that he has been punished long enough, and the party was recognising the hard work that he has done since.
“I have had a consensual relationship after I was estranged from my wife. This matter blew up in 2019-20. I voluntarily resigned and opened up to my family, and it led to my divorce this year. The party has acknowledged that I made an error in judgement,” he said. “I have been kept away from a party position for more than a year. I have been working diligently and party has recognised my work and given me responsibility. I cannot be punished forever.’’
The two women, however, told HT that the party has erred in giving a supervisory role to Mukherjee when his behaviour showed a pattern.
“There are others besides me who have fallen prey and can vouch for the same,” the main complainant wrote in an email on Friday to party leaders, including Rahul Gandhi. “I have been quiet because I do not want our political opponents to hurt the Congress party using this as a tool. The appointment of a proven sexual predator would only harm the Congress party.... Please follow the official procedure and remove him from the post.’’
While there has been no response to the Friday letter, Gowda did send an email on July 24 last year, acknowledging that he was accepting Mukherjee’s resignation after her allegations. “An internal inquiry was conducted,” the email had said. “His resignation has been accepted and he is no longer secretary, AICC department with effect from today.”
When contacted Gowda said: “If such matters arise, they are dealt with in an appropriate and fair manner to the satisfaction of the complainant."
The second woman, who was working in the research department, told HT that Mukherjee travelled with her on party work to Rajasthan. “He always made me feel uncomfortable, but there, he got drunk and banged on my door late at night,” she said.
While she did not file an official complaint, she did bring it to Gowda’s attention. She described Mukherjee as “predatory.”
Mukherjee’s boss Ajoy Kumar told HT that he was holding off assigning work to him. “I have been informed of this, and so no work will be assigned till the issue is resolved,” Kumar said.
An accused in a sexual harassment case could be reinstated, but it depended on the particular case and the findings of the inquiry committee, according to Vrinda Grover, lawyer and expert in sexual harassment cases.
“After inquiry, what was the punishment? Did they say it was only for a year? It depends on the nature of the case and the punishment should be commensurate to that,” she said. “Due diligence requires that they don’t give them a supervisory position, but you may give them a position after a review.”
In this particular case, the details of how long the inquiry committee removed him from the post have not been disclosed even to the complainants.
Mukherjee was also the Lok Sabha candidate for the party from West Bengal’s Bardhaman-Durgapur constituency in 2019.