“Chetta (elder brother), you have taken the World Cup catch. We know we are safe in your hands.” The seven-year-old boy’s words may be a confidence booster, but S Sreesanth, who took the catch that won India their maiden World Twenty20 title in 2007, knows he is in the middle of a trying Test match at present. That the Thiruvananthapuram Central Assembly seat is a different kettle of fish, and an unfamiliar wicket still.
As Kerala gets into the election mode, Sreesanth, who has just started reading newspapers from the front page, instead of the sports pages at the back, is leaving no stone unturned to play well in his new innings.
His day starts at 7 am with house-to-house visits in his constituency, attends weddings in the area, visits temples, churches and mosques, obliges the young and the old seeking to click selfies with him, and goes to the beach to befriend the young voters. Wife Bhuvneshwari Kumari, who comes from Jaipur, is learning Malayalam fast and trying to adjust with the humid weather. “Towards the end of the campaign, I will also join him,” she says.
On Thursday afternoon, a mundu-clad Sree, as he fondly called, is at Sadguru Sree Ramadas Samadhi Sivakshetram in Sreenagar, Manakkadu. Soon, he is flooded with requests for selfies.
But for many — especially the extremely political voters in Kerala — the debutant politician is still an outlier. “I often ask for their blessings. I felt hesitant, initially, to ask them to vote for me. But I have been told I should ask that — even my party has told me (that) seeking votes is very important,” Sreeshant says, waving from his at people on the roadsides.
Politics, he says, became an option for two reasons. First, the persuasion of his father-in-law, a BJP supporter. Second, the long wait to get a clearance from the spot-fixing charges made against him in the 2013 IPL season. The initial suggestion was to fight from Madhya Pradesh, but Sreeshanth wanted to try a more familiar pitch, his home state.
Did he prepare to become a full-fledged politician? “Yes,” he admits sheepishly. “I started listening to Modiji’s speeches.. I also started reading Abdul Kalam-sahab’s books.”
According to him, Modi’s “life story” — that “anyone with normal opportunity but sheer hard work and passion” can become India’s Prime Minister — inspired him to join the BJP in a state where the party is yet to open its account. The campaign trail, he says, has helped him “discover that every youngster is a Modi fan.” But between the lines he mouths one can read that the cricketer in him is aware that it’s a tough game. “Many think the BJP is a religious party,” he says, adding that the party will work hard to remove that notion.
“It will take time, but people are changing. Those who were divided between the LDF and the UDF (have now) started thinking BJP…they are swinging towards the BJP,” he says. He is persistent, too. In Vallakadavu ward, where the BJP won only 37 votes in the civic elections, Sreesanth has been gone back again and again — like the tireless bowler he once was, returning to the top of his run-up after each delivery, good or bad. He now expects to get at least 50,000 votes from there.