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At 96, he feels young enough to contest again!

At 96, Ramchandra Veerappa is contesting the general election yet again and campaigns for eight to 10 hours daily.
PTI | By Fakir Balaji, Indo-Asian News Service, Humnabad, Karnataka
PUBLISHED ON APR 16, 2004 08:40 PM IST

At 96, Ramchandra Veerappa is contesting the general election yet again and campaigns for eight to 10 hours daily.

Not only that. The confident Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate from the reserved parliamentary constituency of Bidar in north Karnataka, says he has no competition whatsoever.

"I have been in politics over the last five decades," Veerappa, a Dalit, told IANS in an interview at his ancestral home here. And it has only whetted his appetite.

"I owe this long life and good health to god alone. In fact, I am looking forward to completing 100 years as an MP and god willing, contest again in the next elections."

Veerappa speaks in Deccani Urdu and is fluent in Hindi and Marathi, spoken by large sections of people in this region.

"I did not have the fortune of going to a school, but managed to pick up the 3Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic) in my native language (Kannada) as I grew up," says a rustic Veerappa, sporting a red headgear.

He began his political career with a stint as member of the legislative council in 1952. He won from the Bidar Lok Sabha seat consecutively in the last three polls.

This is the 13th time he is in the fray, having won on nine occasions from the assembly (Hulsur) and parliamentary constituencies reserved for scheduled castes as a Dalit.

He has seen Indian politics in all its changing hues.

"I had the privilege of interacting with Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi and Morarji Desai.

"During the freedom struggle, national leaders were so different and more patriotic than the present bunch of leaders."

In spite of his old age, Veerappa's memory is remarkable. A Dalit by birth, he married thrice between his 20s and 60s - the second time when his first wife passed away childless, and the third time when his second wife left him.

In all, he had nine children. His eldest son who stays with him contested unsuccessfully in the assembly elections the last time from a different party, while the second one lives in Delhi doing odd jobs.

His youngest son doubles as his secretary and accompanies him on campaigning. His third wife Shankaremma today runs the kitchen and looks after his 200-acre agricultural land near Humnabad.

Veerappa still moves around without a walking stick, taking short steps. He does not have cataract. "Even my teeth are still intact. I don't have dentures yet," he says.

"I don't eat outside. Nor do I take even tea or coffee at home. Smoking, eating pan or chewing betel nuts are a strict no, no. They are taboo for me. I eat maize roti, spicy vegetable curry and a little rice with sambar and curd.

"Even if I am held up outside for long, I make it a point to return home for dinner. At the most, I take seasonal fruits in between if I feel tired and need some nourishment.

"I do not take any medicines even now. I am indebted to god for blessing me with a long life and good health. It is this discipline that is keeping me going," says Veerappa.

Being one of the most popular politicians in this backward region, Veerappa's style of electioneering is unique. He does not believe in organising rallies or addressing huge gatherings.

"My poll campaigning is simple. Since I am a household name in my constituency, I go from place to place to canvas by presenting myself before people.

"Anyhow, my work in the constituency over the last six years speaks for itself."

About his contributions in the Lok Sabha during the sessions, Veerappa says as he is not well versed in English, he does not actively participate in the debates, but pays attention to the proceedings.

Some traces of modern life have, of course, caught up with the rustic nonagenarian who now keeps a mobile phone in his waistcoat pocket.

With the Lok Sabha polls beginning April 20, Veerappa sets out on the campaign trail in the early hours to beat the heat. Travelling by an old Ambassador car, Veerappa covers about 20-25 towns and villages each day and returns home by 8-9 p.m.

The importance of Bidar constituency and Veerappa's candidature influenced even Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani to pass through Humnabad during his campaign tour last month.

"Advani made it a point to touch Humnabad. It only goes to show the significance of this constituency though my prospects of winning for the fourth time have never been in doubt," says Veerappa.

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