Back in November, Reshma Mariyam Roy had to wait until the last day of filing nomination papers to contest the panchayat polls, as her 21st birthday, which would mark the minimum age to fight elections in India, fell the day before. She broke a record that day and became the youngest candidate to fight local body polls in Kerala.
A month later, Roy, after winning that election, is set to break a bigger record: that of becoming the youngest panchayat president in the history of Kerala.
On Monday, the CPM Konni area committee approved the decision to install Roy as the head of the Aruvappulam panchayat in Pathanamthitta district, after she defeated the Congress candidate in the 11th ward by 70 votes. Roy’s victory from her ward and her elevation to the top post of the local body are congruous to the fortunes of the CPI(M), as the party wrested the ward and the panchayat from the Congress after a gap of 20 years.
While her candidacy and the eventual promotion as panchayat president were totally unexpected, Roy said she would happily carry out any responsibility that the party gave her.
“It is certainly a big responsibility. But I strongly believe that when young people get opportunities and the spaces to learn and work, it paves the way for the progress of the country. LDF has been giving opportunities to people like me and Arya [Rajendran] in Kerala, now it’s our chance to acquire the learning and do commendable work,” Roy told The Indian Express. Arya Rajendran, a 21-year-old CPM leader, was elected this week as the youngest mayor of Thiruvananthapuram corporation.
Does her age perturb her at the prospect of managing a largely-rural panchayat, especially when all her ward member colleagues are senior to her? She replied, “Age doesn’t determine maturity, our work and character does. Yes, I understand that all my ward members are very much older to me, but these are people with a lot of experience. I will take their suggestions and we will work together.”
Though a novice in electoral politics and administration, Roy is well-known in Aruvappulam panchayat thanks to her social-service contributions as a DYFI worker, especially during the 2018 floods and the Covid-19 lockdown. She entered politics through the SFI, student wing of the CPI(M), while pursuing her BBA, and later became an active part of the DYFI, the party’s youth wing.
She said she faced initial hostility from her family, who had their allegiance to the Congress, but when she made it clear that she was ideologically aligned to the Left, their resistance broke.
“The good part was that my family always gave me a voice. They knew that if I was doing good work (even if I am in the CPM), there was nothing to worry. They would always advise me to help people in their times of need,” Roy said.
The work she did as part of local MLA KU Janish Kumar’s ‘kaithangu’ project, of delivering essential items to far-off, marginalised families during the initial phase of the lockdown this year, made her a familiar face in the panchayat.
“I was the coordinator of Aruvappulam panchayat. To pool in money to donate towards the chief minister’s distress relief fund, we (DYFI) collected scrap and sold it. We bought handloom traditional clothes from Balaramapuram and sold it among the people here. From Aruvappulam, we were able to raise Rs 1.15 lakh in a small period of time. I think people saw that I was able to get things done,” she said.
Roy, who plans to balance her duties at the panchayat along with studying law, listed some of the priority areas she would work on in her panchayat.
“Ours is a small, rural panchayat with a large farming population. So agriculture has to be encouraged. There’s also the issue of wild animals destroying crops, which we have to solve. Since our panchayat is located on both sides of a river, the demand for a bridge connecting both ends and leading to the Konni Medical College has been a long one. Housing is also an important issue,” she said.
Roy’s family consists of her father Roy P Mathew, who’s engaged in the timber trade, mother Mini Roy, a senior clerk at a private college, and brother Robin, who has finished his studies and is on the lookout for a job.
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