Updated: March 22, 2021 9:01:08 am
“Give me a comb,” Lathika Subhash tells her nephew, following him into a room. Soon, she returns with a grin, “I did it again! I forgot I don’t have any hair.”
Until March 14, 56-year-old Lathika, who headed the Mahila Congress in Kerala, had short salt-and-pepper hair, quite like the late Indira Gandhi. That day, as it became evident that the Congress was not going to give her the ticket for her home constituency of Ettumanoor, Lathika resigned from party posts and proceeded to tonsure her head in front of the Congress office in Thiruvananthapuram, while raising slogans in favour of Rahul and Sonia Gandhi. Her protest was against the state leadership, she said, and the poor representation of women — 10 out of 92 — in the Congress list.
In a state where women outnumber men, and where the Congress has burnt its hands over mixed signals on the Sabarimala issue, they knew visuals of a woman sacrificing her hair carried deep resonance. Later, Lathika announced she would contest as an Independent from Ettumanoor.
Sitting in her home in Ettuma- noor in Kottayam district, Lathika says her fight should not be seen as personal. “It’s not Lathika Subhash the party worker, but Lathika Subhash the Mahila Congress chief who has been denied a ticket. If student wing president K M Abhijith and Youth Congress president Shafi Parambil can get tickets, why is the Mahila Congress chief denied a ticket?”
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She also questions the way the snub came. “Couldn’t they have informed me?… The way I was trampled symbolises crushing of women across parties in Kerala,” she says, breaking into tears.
Lathika had been hoping for a ticket since October last year when the Kerala Congress (M) left Congress-led UDF for the CPM-led LDF. For decades, as part of UDF seat-sharing, Ettumanoor, with a mix of Hindu and Christian voters, had been allotted to the KC(M). The Congress got the Hindu votes, the KC(M) the Christian ones, helping the UDF win four of the six elections here since 1991.
With the KC(M) out, Lathika, a popular Hindu Nair leader elected twice to district panchayat council, considered herself the natural choice. She says a party survey showed she would win, and a national-level leader assured her the ticket. She says she had also told senior state leaders Oommen Chandy and Ramesh Chennithala about her desire to contest.
However, in the seat-sharing talks, Ettumanoor was handed over to the Kerala Congress (Joseph), the faction of the KC(M) that remained with the UDF. The KC(J), which has fielded its youth wing leader Prince Lukose, reportedly didn’t even want Ettumanoor as it lacks a major vote base there.
Seen as part of the Chandy-led ‘A’ group, Lathika can’t understand why the former CM didn’t lobby for her. Last week, Chandy defended the UDF decision. “Lathika took the stand that she only wanted Ettumanoor and by then, the seat had already been allotted to the Kerala Congress.”
Lathika is firm on contesting, despite the Congress reaching out to her. “I will win, no doubt. They (male party leaders) think a woman can only climb up to district panchayat president. After that, they will decide whether a woman should be an MLA or MP. That’s why the women’s reservation Bill is pending in Parliament.”
On the ground in Ettumanoor, all poll conversations revolve around Lathika. Should she hit the Congress as expected, the CPM’s V N Vasavan could steal a victory.
Sreeja, who runs a hole-in-the-wall lottery shop in the town, says she felt sorry for Lathika for having had to shave her head. “It showed how badly they treated her. It’s a reality that political parties are controlled by men. As a woman, I will vote for her.”
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