Saturday, March 29, 2014

On The Road

Wives of politicians talk about their experiences during the 2014 Lok Sabha campaign 

(Part 1) 

Photo of Nisha Jose by K. Shijith and Betty Louis by BP Deepu

Wife Nisha follows in Jose K Mani's footsteps
By Shevlin Sebastian

Sometime ago, Nisha, the wife of Kottayam MLA Jose Mani, went to attend the annadhanam at the Pisharukovil Devi temple at Piravom. There, she met several womenfolk, including an 84-year-old lady who requested Nisha to come for the celebrations of her birthday in February.

It was a day when Nisha was heading towards Bangalore in her car with her daughter, Priyanka, who had to sit for the entrance exams for the National Institute of Fashion Technology. But, somehow, Nisha managed to make a stop at the temple and greet the old lady. “Her look of happiness made my day,” she says.

During the election campaign for the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, Nisha had campaigned extensively, and given her number to numerous women in the seven Assembly segments - Ettumanoor, Kottayam, Puthupally, Kaduthuruthy, Vaikom, Pala and Piravom - that comprise the Kottayam constituency. 

I told them to contact me in case they need something,” says Nisha. “And they have been calling me. And we have become friends.” 

Thus far, Nisha has 500 numbers saved on her mobile phone. And following in the footsteps of Jose, she has attended weddings, birthdays and death ceremonies. “Yes, definitely, I am doing this to help my husband,” she says. “But I am also a people-person and enjoy meeting women.”

In fact, once desperate to find a toilet, while travelling between Kaduthuruthy and Thalayolaparambu she stopped at a random house, knocked on the door, introduced herself, used the toilet and became friends with the family. “I have attended their birthdays and baptisms,” she says, with a smile.

Interestingly, Nisha says that she does not play politics. “In fact, I don't even know which party they belong to or have sympathies for,” she says. “I have a clear mind on this.”

Meanwhile, her day begins very early when people come to the house at Kottayam. “Many of them are well-wishers, who want to meet Jose,” she says. Nisha ensures they all have something to eat. However, if there is a woman accompanied by a child, she will provide breakfast.

Thus far, the feedback she is getting from voters about Jose for next month's Lok Sabha election is positive. “With God's grace, there is a good chance that Jose will win once again, although I have told my husband not to take anything for granted,” says Nisha. “He should keep working as hard as ever.” 

​“My gut feeling is that Baby will win” - wife Betty Louis

Betty Louis, the wife of MA Baby, the senior CPI(M) leader, had a laugh when Congress supporter Celine D'Cunha recounted the experience of her son Sheen. He had gone to a nearby pilgrimage centre in Kollam. As is usually the case, there were several beggars sitting outside. Feeling in a magnanimous mood, Sheen gave Rs 10 to a beggar. The man said, “I am grateful that you have given me the money, but you must do me one favour. Please cast a vote for MA Baby.”

It seems that even though he was a beggar, he was a Left sympathiser. “He was not only begging for money, but also for votes,” says Betty. “Just like what I am doing now.”

In Kollam town, Betty met a senior Congress leader and asked for his vote. The man said, “I will give it.” But suddenly Betty remembered seeing a photo of the leader with NK Premachandran, the UDF candidate on Facebook. So Betty said, “You are not being honest when you said that you will be giving my husband the vote.”

But the Congressman said, with a serious look, “I shall help you because Baby is my friend.”

Betty starts her campaign at 8 a.m. She is accompanied by her old Students Federation of India activists like Jaji Sunil, Vimala Teacher and Chintha Jerome. “The team gets expanded at times,” says Betty. Kollam Mayor Prasanna Earnest sometimes joins the house-to-house campaign.

Interestingly, Betty says that this time there are very few complaints. “Earlier, when we used to go to the town of Kundara, people would gives us a long list of complaints,” says Betty. “One reason could be that there is development, like the Techno Park, better roads and drinking water facilities.”

Since the LDF has always been strong in the labour-dominated constituency of Kollam, whose chief industry is cashew production, Betty's gut feeling is that Baby will win. “There is a 99 per cent possibility,” she says. “But 1 per cent has to be left open. Anything can happen at any time. The party should work hard. The opponent is a good one. And the voters should decide who they think is the better candidate.”

As for the All-India election, now that the right wing, led by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, has put in a strong thrust, Betty says, “In the elections just after the 1975 Emergency, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was voted out. The people of India are wise and will choose what is good for the country.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode)   

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