Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Being In Close touch With The People

Basking in the success of the recent mass contact programme, Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy talks about the many lessons he has learnt while interacting with the public over the years

Photo: The author with Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. Photo by Manu R. Mavelil

By Shevlin Sebastian
At 8 a.m., on Saturday, one day after the highly successful mass contact programme (Jana Samparka Paripadi) at the Central Stadium, at Thiruvananthapuram, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy’s body looks tired, but his face is beaming. “It was a huge success,” he says, at his office at Cliff House, the CM’s official residence. Amazingly, he had met petitioners for 14 hours non-stop. The tiny breaks he took were to drink buttermilk and a bowl of oats, which was sent by his wife Mariamma.
In a mass contact programme, people think that those who get the benefits and the cash payments are the biggest beneficiaries,” he says. “But that is not true. I am the biggest beneficiary. I became aware of so many problems of the people which I did not know about earlier. This has been the biggest experience of my career. Earlier, I did this exercise in all the 14 districts of Kerala. The knowledge I got about life has been the equivalent of reading 100 books.”
At Cliff House, Chandy observes that most of the people had a particular kind of problem. “A large number had been involved in accidents and became paralysed,” says Chandy. “This time, the number is too large. A doctor told me that after a certain point, there is no treatment available in Kerala. Patients have to go to [ Christian Medical College Hospital ] Vellore . I do feel an urgent need to set up a hospital with advanced facilities to cater to these people.”
As for the oft-repeated charge by the Opposition that Chandy is doing the work of panchayat secretaries and village officers, he says, “That is correct. And the reason is because there are too many rules which have hamstrung their efficiency. And there is an urgent need to change them. So I cannot blame a panchayat secretary or a village officer. Sometimes, when the panchayat committee will take a decision to do something, the secretary is unable to act on it because of certain rules. As a result, the people get angry.”
But Chandy has always had a magic touch with people. Right from the beginning of his career more than four decades ago, Chandy has enjoyed interacting with the common man. “Their love and affection provides me with a tremendous amount of energy,” he says. “And I want to solve all the problems of people.”

Here's one which he resolved, to his satisfaction. Some time ago, he had gone to visit a friend in Kochi. An 18-year-old boy asked to meet the Chief Minister. When he met Chandy, he said that he had not received the death certificate of his mother, Sharada (name changed), although he had been trying for two years.

She had fallen sick while returning from Sabarimala. Sharada was then rushed by car to the Kottayam Medical Hospital, but had died along the way. “The boy does not know where exactly his mother died,” says Chandy. “The rule is that whereever a person dies, that particular panchayat has to be informed, and then they would issue the death certificate. So he was not able to get the certificate.”

So, at the next Cabinet meeting Chandy told his colleagues about this. “I said that this is an inhuman rule,” he says. “There must be many cases like this. The Cabinet then made a decision to change the rule.”

The new rule states that it does not matter where a person dies, but when the body is brought to a particular place for a burial or a cremation, that panchayat will issue the certificate. “I felt good that I was able to do something about this,” says Chandy.

The Chief Minister also reveals that he reads each and every letter that is addressed to him, the majority of which are written by ordinary people. “I learn a lot of things when I read the letters,” says Chandy. 

Once, during an inauguration, Chandy lit a lamp while holding the diya with one hand. A letter writer Ramesh Menon (name changed) said that it was a mistake. “It goes against the Indian ethos,” wrote Ramesh. “You are supposed to light a lamp with two hands. And in case, you use one hand, the left hand should be placed on the arm of the right.” A photo was attached showing the right way. Chandy was deeply affected. “Ramesh is right and, thereafter, I have always ensured that I have used two hands to light a lamp,” he says. “Every day I am learning something new.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)  

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