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Sunday, Nov 17, 2019

Lok Sabha elections 2019: After Rahul’s entry, Wayanad hopes for better opportunities, end of hate politics

While many express hope over Gandhi’s candidature, the troubles of this district, nestled in the Western Ghats, run deeper.

lok-sabha-elections Updated: Apr 21, 2019 10:44 IST
Congress president Rahul Gandhi will also contest from Wayanad, in addition to Amethi.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi will also contest from Wayanad, in addition to Amethi. (Vivek R Nair/HT Photo)

Wayanad First-time voter Varsha John, a 23-year-old working in a technology firm in Bengaluru, is on leave visiting her family in Wayanad. After the Congress announced on March 31 that party president Rahul Gandhi will also contest Wayanad, in addition to Amethi, John made it a point to extend her leave to cast her vote on April 23.

“I don’t have any political affiliation. But Rahul’s entry has electrified the scene. I think it is the best thing ever to happen to the backward district,” she says with a chuckle.

John is not alone in hoping that the attention Wayanad is receiving will open up new opportunities. “It is a god sent opportunity. We are sure his candidature will bring development to Wayanad,” said Sreemaya V K, a postgraduate and first-time voter.

Although she hails from a family that has traditionally voted for the Left (the Left Democratic Front, a coalition of left parties including the Communist Party of India (Marxist), is one of the two alternating ruling coalitions in the state), she is thinking of giving her vote to the “PM-in-waiting.” “I think the time of hardcore ideology is over. What we need are better opportunities. Politics of violence and hate will have to go,” she says.

Also read: Poll watchdog stops streaming of Modi web series

While many like her express hope over Gandhi’s candidature, the troubles of this district, nestled in the Western Ghats, run deeper. A minority-dominated constituency — the Muslim population is 32 %, while Christians are 22% and Hindus make up 46%, as per the 2011 census — It is one of the most backward districts of Kerala. For instance, the infant mortality rate here is the highest in the state, and is 2.7 points higher than the state average of 7.

Most of the educated youngsters eventually move to neighbouring states like Karnataka or Tamil Nadu for employments; several others flock to the Middle East for blue-collar jobs.

More than half the 1.3 million-strong electorate in the state is below the age of 35 years. John’s expectations from the high-profile entrant in Kerala politics are high: greater job opportunities, better travel facilities, lifting of a ban on night travel along the Kozhikode-Bangaluru highway and a railway line to Mysuru, a demand that is several decades old and has not been taken up by successive governments.

“I have been hearing about Nilambur-Nanjangud railway line since my childhood. It is the shortest route to Mysore from Kerala. But it has never materialized,” said P C Marakkar, 48, who runs a taxi in Vythiri.

He too hopes that Gandhi will move this along. After all, Gandhi spoke of the travel difficulties in Wayanad during his last trip in April.

Forest preservation, tribal lives

Wayanad, which has close to 45 % forest cover and a sizeable tribal population, was one of the districts worst hit by the floods that crippled Kerala last year. One can still see the scars left by the disaster: hills scooped out by the floods, damaged roads and bridges. Of the over 400 persons who died in the floods, the most were from Wayanad and Idukki.

“We still have little access to education, healthcare and housing. Infant mortality death is very high. We don’t need lip service but an exclusive package to lift us,” said Jaya PS, a post-graduate tribal student from Mananthawadi. She hopes Gandhi will help improve the lot of ancient tribes.

“Wayand has 21% tribal population. Though the government pumped in money it failed to reach tribals. We hope things will change with Rahul’s entry. With direct payment to families [of welfare measures] we can avoid middle men and bureaucracy to an extent,” said former minister P K Jayalakshmi, hailing from Kuruchiya community.

On April 17, during his visit to Sultan Bathery, Gandhi requested a meeting with Sreedhanya Suresh. The 24-year-old tribal youth had qualified in the recent civil service examination. “A woman who confronted adversities with much guts,” Gandhi described her to reporters, after their meeting at St Mary’s College.

A three-corner fight

In Wayanad, the Congress president is locked in a three-cornered contest with Communist Party of India’s P P Suneer and Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance’s Thushar Vellapally.

Both his opponents often ask voters whether they want another election in six months. “It is a time-pass for Rahul Gandhi. Don’t go by his empty promises,” Vellapally told workers on Thursday citing his track record in Amethi. Suneer has asked voters to elect a candidate who can devote all of his time to the constituency. “His candidature is a historic blunder. He came here only twice. After election he will disappear forever,” he told youngsters in Kalpetta while campaigning last week. At a rally in Thiruvananthapuram on Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “(Rahul Gandhi) says he wants to give a message. In that case he should have contested either from the state capital or Pathanamthitta. It is nothing but appeasement politics.”

Gandhi has tried to address these concerns. “It is great honour for me to contest in a constituency in Kerala. I want to give a message to the south by contesting from Wayanad,” he said while addressing a rally in Sultan Bathery on April 17. After filing his nominations on April 4, Gandhi has visited the constituency once, but senior leaders are camping here. Sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra arrived on Saturday for a two-day visit. “Rahuls’ entry in Wayanad will have a ripple effect in all constituencies of Kerala. Left leaders’ outbursts are an indication of their uneasiness. The little- known constituency is high on the political map of the country. We hope this will help end its backwardness,” said senior journalist and political observer Sunnykutty Abraham.