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IIM-A passed out in poll fray

Pained by mumbai terror attack, poor youth who passed out of IIM-A in TN plunged into poll fray to take on heavyweights as independent candidate. MR Venkatesh reports.

india Updated: Apr 11, 2009 18:28 IST
MR Venkatesh

IT IS a back-breaking rocky ride in an auto to Madipakkam, a shockingly ill-kempt suburb of South Chennai near here that takes one to E. Sarath Babu’s humble thatched-roof house.

In one of the fastest growing unplanned urban segment on the city’s outskirts, where the poor and the middle class with dreamy eyes are huddled together, this 30-year-old youth who spurned the best corporate offers after graduating from IIM-Ahmedabad, now hopes to make subaltern history in the coming LS polls.

Shocked and pained by the Nov 26 Mumbai terror attack, Sarath Babu, founder and chief executive of ‘Foodking Private Ltd’, his bold start-up in the food and catering business that spans five cities, has decided to contest the prestigious South Chennai seat for the Lok Sabha from the city as an Independent.

“It was after the Mumbai terror attack, I decided to enter electoral politics to reach out to more people in society, across socio-economic segments,” Sarath told HT in a chat today. His Spartan home has just a long wooden table and an old sofa-cum-bed with a striking photograph of Mahatma Gandhi enhancing their home.

Born in a poor Tamil household of four children – two girls and two boys with Sarath Babu being the elder of the boys-, it was a Himalayan task for their mother- Ms. Deepa Ramani, to bring up and educate the kids with the money she got running an eatery from home.

“I used to make a range of delicacies, ‘idli’, ‘dosa’, ‘vada’, ‘karuvadu’ (from dried fish), and brought up all of them with great difficulty; now I am proud of him,” says his mother Deepa. After completing his school here, Sarath went to study B.E. Chemical Engineering in BITS Pilani, before joining ‘Polaris’, the IT Company where he served for over a year. Then he went on to study in IIM-Ahmedabad, by raising loans.

Coming out of the portals of the IIM-A in 2006, Sarath says he had some of the best corporate jobs waiting for him including one that would have earned for him a princely Rs.One Crore plus per annum.

“But I thought of my poor Mother’s suffering whose sweat and toil made our education possible and decided to come back to Chennai to help her and expand the food business she had inspired,” said Sarath.

So, almost immediately in April 2006, with a small seed capital of just Rs.2000, Sarath set up his own venture, ‘Foodking Private Limited’. Today, besides in Chennai, it now has branches in five other Indian cities including Goa, Hyderabad, and Pilani in Rajasthan. Both his sisters have been married and his younger brother Reuben Chandran works for his eatery chain that now employs over 200 people.

“I felt contesting election is the best platform to expand one’s service to the people,” says Sarath. Initially, when he took this decision about a month ago, his mother was “afraid” of the repercussions.

“But not anymore, as lot of people in our neighbourhood, now talk of him as a prospective winning candidate,” chips in her mother Ms. Deepa.

The DMK’s legal wing Secretary, Mr. R. S. Bharathi in his late 50s’ and the AIADMK’s ‘Chitlapakkam’ Rajendran (48 years) are the main party candidates pitted against him in South Chennai though the BJP is yet to announce its nominee.

“My main plank is to help create more job opportunities for the youth, to create an awareness among the youth on the need to involve in public life and to set right the appalling civic services here,” says Sarath. “My long-term goal is to work towards a hunger-free India,” he adds with modesty.

But how will he cope with the money and muscle power of the established political parties in Tamil Nadu? “No, already a lot of people are helping me, including some friends from IIM-A; this is supported by small amounts of Rs.100 and Rs.200 my friends collect for my campaigning,” says an optimistic Sarath.

“If you come under my constituency, please vote for me,” Sarath nonchalantly adds, to every visitor to his house now.