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Kerala local polls: Young women in the fray look to make a difference

The candidates say they are in it for development and to change the way people look at politics. The local body elections in the state are scheduled to be held on December 8, 10 and 14.

Written by Shaju Philip | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: November 30, 2020 8:30:30 am
UDF candidate Aysha Hussain in Changanassery. (Express Photo)

THE UPCOMING elections to the three-tier local self-government bodies in Kerala will see several youngsters – particularly women students and professionals with little political background – being fielded by mainstream parties. The candidates say they are in it for development and to change the way people look at politics.

UDF candidate in Changanassery municipality Aysha Hussain says she wants youngsters to have a say in grassroots governance. “In elections, we usually see people who have made politics their means of livelihood. We want a change and youngsters should lead our local bodies,’’ she says.

Read| Collective, volunteers: In Kerala local polls, no politics is new politics

The 23-year-old M.Tech student, who has no political background, says the decision to contest elections was her own.

K A Ashwini, the CPI(M) candidate in Aryad panchayat, Alappuzha, says social work has been her stepping stone to politics. The daughter of a daily wage labourer, who is doing her masters in social work, says, “For the past five years, I have been giving tuition to children in coastal villages. This has helped evoke my interest in politics and social work.”

A local office-bearer of SFI, the student wing of CPI(M), Ashwini’s experience in politics so far was largely limited to campus.

In Nanmanda panchayat in Kozhikode district, the BJP has fielded Aswini Balan, a 23-year-old who has completed her B.Ed. “This are changing times and I believe the youth have a large role to play in the evolving development agenda,” she says. “There are a lot of technological interventions we have to bring to rural governance.”

“I have not, however, abandoned the dream to become a schoolteacher,” Balan says, adding that her college days were free of politics although her family has BJP background.

For the political parties, the willingness shown by women students and young professionals to participate in grassroots governance has helped them reduce dependence on the pool of women members in the state’s poverty eradication and women empowerment mission Kudumbashree and ASHA workers, who so far formed the bulk of the women candidates in civic elections.

After reservation of seats for women was increased to 50 per cent, the parties had to scout for willing candidates. This time, however, in several local bodies, women are contesting even in general seats, which have been dominated by men.

According to Dr Joy Elamon, Director-General, Kerala Institute of Local Administration, the involvement of youth is a good sign considering the growing role of local bodies in governance.

“There is a surge of youngsters this time. It is a good sign that our new generation is ready to take up leadership if provided adequate space,” he says. “This trend has shown that the youth will not shy away from politics and the state would get a new breed of representatives at a time when the government is going ahead with new initiatives in health, education, housing and agriculture with the involvement of local bodies.’’

Recently, the government also assigned a larger role to local bodies in disaster management, allowing them to have their own disaster management plan.

Dr Joy says the 2018 flood was an eye-opener for many young volunteers. “These young volunteers saw how civic bodies deliver results. Besides, the civic bodies have opened up a lot of avenues of community participation in governance. The rejuvenation of several rivers has been one such initiative of community participation.”

“The interest of youth in local bodies shows that we would get a new leadership with perspective to take up the emerging challenges,’’ he adds.

CPI(M) legislator P Aisha Potty, who has been representing Kottarakkara since 2006, says women have come a long way in the state. “When 33 per cent women reservation in local bodies came into effect in 1995, not many women were willing to join the electoral fray. Support from family was lacking… Over the past two decades, our women have been empowered. Now, we see a lot of youngsters ready to contest. They would give new energy to our local governance.”

The local body elections in the state are scheduled to be held on December 8, 10 and 14.

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