With the entry of Rahul Gandhi in Wayanad, the Congress has been speaking of a ‘Mission 20/20’ in Kerala, a campaign aimed at sweeping the state’s 20 parliamentary constituencies. A pivotal part of that campaign is to wrest back seats that voted overwhelmingly for the Left in the last two elections and in doing so, prepare a robust groundwork to come back to power in the state in 2021. The candidature of Remya Haridas, the daughter of a daily-wager from the SC community, in the Alathur Lok Sabha constituency was seen as a promising move by the party. But here in this largely rural constituency, the young woman candidate has to not just contend with the organisational strength of the Left and its two-time MP, but also face the most derogatory comments from her rivals.
It began with Deepa Nisanth, a college teacher and fellow Left traveller who was recently involved in a case of plagiarism, raising questions about Remya’s campaign in Alathur. Remya, who sings well and is often requested by crowds to hum a tune during her campaign, was mocked by Deepa who remarked that this was a fight to elect an MP to Parliament, not a singing contest or temple management election. The comments, which were widely seen as disparaging and deriding a person’s talent, led to quarrels on social media between Deepa and a host of Congress leaders. Remya, on her part, hit back saying that she would continue to use her singing skills as a weapon in her election campaign.
Earlier this week, sexist comments of a more serious nature were directed at Remya by none other than CPM-led LDF’s convenor and senior leader A Vijayaraghavan. Speaking in favour of the LDF candidate in the neighbouring Ponnani constituency, Vijayaghavan said, “The woman candidate in Alathur, before filing her nomination, first went to meet the Panakkad Thangal. Then, she went to meet Kunhalikutty. Now, I don’t know what will happen to that girl.” Both Thangal and Kunhalikutty are leaders of Congress-ally IUML, with the latter embroiled in a sex scandal more than a decade ago.
The distasteful comments irked the Congress leadership in the state which asked for an explanation from the CPI(M). Reports indicate that a section of the CPI(M) leadership was not too happy with the remarks made by such a senior leader, especially about a young, female Dalit candidate.
“In this age, such comments should not be made at people who are entering politics. He’s such a senior leader and someone whom we respect. Leaders from their party keep talking about upholding renaissance values and ensuring more women in politics. So it caused me mental anguish. We have filed a complaint against him for making such comments,” Remya told indianexpress.com, on Saturday in the middle of her campaign in Alathur.
Alathur is not an easy nut to crack for Remya and the UDF leadership in the state. A largely rural and agrarian constituency, spread across the districts of Thrissur and Palakkad in central Kerala, Alathur, a reserved seat, has voted for the Left candidate and sitting MP PK Biju in 2009 and 2014. Biju, who comes from an impoverished background himself, holds a doctorate in polymer chemistry and claims to have initiated a slew of drinking water and road projects in the constituency. To make matters worse, the Congress holds just one of the seven Assembly segments in the constituency.
On Saturday, Remya went around in an open vehicle around the Nenmara Assembly segment, cruising in and out of neighbourhoods, stepping down for a speech here and there. Accepting garlands and flowers from little children and elders, she promised them that she would always be with them and ensure their voice reaches India’s parliament. While Remya does not allude to the derogatory remarks made against her in corner meetings or neighbourhood speeches, the Congress has made it a plank to mount a challenge on the CPI(M).
At a local meeting in Chittur, a Congress leader told a crowd, “First they (CPM) ignored her. Then, they criticised her. Now, they’re abusing her. These are the same people who talk of renaissance values and uplifting women in the state. By voting for the UDF, send them a message that you will not forgive such comments against Remya.”
While the Election Commission is yet to take action against Vijayaraghavan, there are enough indications on the ground that his remarks did not go down well with the voters.
A trader in Nenmara Assembly segment of Alathur who stood listening to Remya’s speech, said, “She has a fighting chance now. The remarks made by Vijayaraghavan have been seen by all the people in Alathur. Such comments should have never been made against a young woman.”
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