(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
April 10, 2011
ON CAMPAIGN TRAIL WITH M A BABY
Will Kundara's Convention
Hold True This Time?
N S Arjun
IT was a strange sight indeed for an election meeting. Around six sketch artistes were furiously sketching the portraits of persons – young, old and women – who stood posing in front of them somewhat awkwardly. This was happening even as a cultural troupe was rendering songs in praise of the LDF government's achievements. Once the sketches were completed, the artistes sign it with a request “Vote for M A Baby” and hands them over to the much delighted persons whose portraits were sketched.
This was the scene in one of the interior villages of Kundara assembly constituency in Kollam district from where the CPI(M) Central Committee member and minister for education and culture in the LDF government, M A Baby, is seeking re-election. Baby, who is known for his interest in arts and culture and his wide contacts across cultural fraternity, is being helped in this electoral battle by a battery of artistes who descended on Kundara from across the state. Among them include singers, theatre artistes, sketch artistes etc.
Not only the local artistes, Baby has got support from some big names in the cultural field. Jnanpith award winner and famous Malayalee poet Professor O N V Kurup addressed an election meeting of the CPI(M) leader while renowned film maker and winner of national awards, Dr Adoor Gopalakrishna, visited Baby and extended his support. A written statement asking the people of Kundara to re-elect Baby was issued by renowned Malayalam short story writer T Padmanabhan. From Bengal, the renowned film maker Mrinal Sen called up Baby to wish him a successful election.
Kundara has a special place in the history of Kerala. It was from here that Velu Thampi Dalawa, the prime minister of Travancore kingdom, issued his famous proclamation Kundara Vilambaram in January 1809 urging the people to fight the British. The proclamation had its effect and the entire region rose like one man against the British. Velu Thampi, who was a tahsildar, was made the prime minister only after he led a huge rebellion of people against the King's attempts to extract huge amounts of money as taxes. The 200th anniversary of Kundara Vilambaram was celebrated in a big way in Kundara and Kollam in 2009, in which M A Baby, as cultural minister, played an important role. A grand memorial of Velu Thampi was erected on the occasion.
Despite winning from here in 2006 with a comfortable majority of over 15,000 votes, the CPI(M) leader is not taking the fight against the Congress candidate, P Jermias lightly. On Sunday (April 3), Baby began his campaign at 7:30 in the morning and ended it sharply at 10 in the night. He addressed almost 60 meetings during this time. It was actually a jatha, with Baby seated atop a high chair on a makeshift Gypsy jeep that had been equipped with a canopy, a speaker system and a neon flash light. An advance vehicle with proper sound system and a diesel generator alerted the people about the jatha. As people came out of their homes, Baby greeted them by waving and by handing flowers to kids, which was a big hit with the entire family becoming happy.
The jatha stops in the centre of the village where a proper meeting is organised. It begins with the felicitation of the candidate by the villagers. Local leaders of the LDF would already have spoken about politics in the state and the achievements of the LDF government. Baby limits himself to around five minutes to get across his message to the voters. He contrasts the jailing of former union cabinet minister A Raja, former state minister R Balakrishna Pillai on corruption charges with the jailing of V S Achutanandan and other CPI(M) leaders fighting for the cause of the people. The slew of welfare measures implemented by the LDF government, the specific development projects brought to the area – the setting up of National Institute of Fashion Technology, a Techno Park and MBA college etc are highlighted. And since it is just a day since India lifted the World Cup victory, Baby brings that in conclusion. He appeals to the voters to register a similar emphatic victory for the LDF, invariably drawing a loud cheer. It was clear, the CPI(M) leader was connecting with his audience.
Reminded by aides, Baby cuts short his speech at 10 p.m. sharp at the stipulated Election Commission time of closure of campaign. Eager to catch up with him for his take on the polls, I approach him for the interview, but he is still not finished. He had to call on a family in an adjoining village which had a bereavement of one of its member in the morning. He consoles the son and chats with the family for a while. Later, at 10:30 in the night, he is back at the local area committee office to plan for the next day's campaign. Asked about the intensive nature of the campaign, he says this has been the case always – the effort is to reach as many people as possible in as personal way as possible in this phase of campaign. CPI(M) Polit Bureau member S Ramachandran Pillai inaugurated Baby's campaign by addressing a big public meeting. Another Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury is also scheduled to campaign for him in the coming days.
Baby expresses confidence that the pro-people alternative policies implemented by the LDF government for the last five years would have a positive impact on the elections. He says there have been remarkable achievements in many sectors and cites the many awards the state received in the recent past. The central government has selected Kerala as the best state for decentralisation and gave an award of Rs 3 crore. CNN-IBN news channel has presented awards to Kerala for its achievements in the fields of education and health. That is why the constant refrain in the LDF campaign is another term to the LDF for continuing these policies, he says.
Kundara assembly constituency has a peculiar electoral history. Whichever front candidate (UDF or LDF) wins from here, that front has gone on to form the state government. It may be purely coincidental but this is one seat the outcome of which will be watched keenly by all.