From an online film reviewer to becoming one of the youngest panchayat presidents in the country, 22-year-old Johnys P Stephen’s life has suddenly started resembling a film script. This final-semester MA English student from Bengaluru’s Christ Deemed-to-be-University is now set to chair Kerala’s Uzhavoor panchayat on December 30 after he won as an Independent candidate in a panchayat which witnessed a hung house.
Stephen won by a margin of 194 votes in the recently-held elections, defeating Left Democratic Front (LDF), United Democratic Front (UDF) and National Democratic Alliance (NDA) nominees in Ward 4 (Areekkara) supported by ‘One India One Pension’ (OIOP), an active group in the panchayat. With both the UDF and LDF securing five seats each, Stephen’s group OIOP with two seats emerged as the kingmaker in the 13-ward panchayat.
OIOP aims to work towards ensuring a minimum pension of Rs 10,000 for everyone above the age of 60, whatever be their field of work. “This movement has been gaining popularity among everyone in the area with our support base also growing over the years,” Stephen tells indianexpress.com.
Confirming the regional post-poll alliance in Uzhavoor, Kaduthuruthy MLA and former Public Works Department minister Mons Joseph explains that the UDF was not averse to the proposal of forming the ‘Uzhavoor Development Alliance’ with OIOP. “We have decided to support ONOP’s young councillor Johnys P Stephen as the panchayat president in Uzhavoor on finding that such a partnership would further public welfare in the area. The anti-incumbency sentiment among voters against the LDF was also considered when we decided to take this step,” he adds.
Hailing from the hometown of former President K R Narayanan, Stephen says he was one of the major motivational figures he grew up reading about. “Narayanan Sir could rise to the zenith from humble beginnings overcoming various challenges. This has helped me believe nothing is impossible if the right moves are made at the right time,” Stephen tells The Indian Express.
Born to teachers Stephen P U and Laiby Stephen, Stephen is also the first from his family to get into electoral politics. Hs passion for arts, politics, and social services helped him view life from different perspectives right from his formative years, says Stephen. “I believe arts and politics go hand-in-hand as both these are well connected to the commoner. My conviction that politics should revolve around doing good for the ones being represented put together with my interest towards public speaking and social service has motivated me to dream higher,” he adds.
An ardent follower of contemporary politics, Stephen says he was tired of the fact that youngsters were not given many opportunities in electoral politics by any of the mainstream parties without any influence. “This fuelled my decision to contest as an independent candidate as I valued free-thinking and the ability to self-learn as my core strengths as an individual and as a leader,” he says.
“Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, APJ Abdul Kalam… the list of leaders who have inspired me is endless, but being accessible and transparent to people is the common thread all of them represent,” says the aspiring civil servant, who has now realised that politics is also a good way to serve people.
“Being a representative of the people gives more opportunities to do more good deeds on a first-hand basis. However, I have not given up on my IAS dreams and have pledged to make the next five years count well for my panchayat and thereby for myself,” he says, adding that his tenure in the panchayat would be ideal to ”develop a responsible personality and to learn from the various relationships I nurture with people from different walks of life.”
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