You are one of the youngest leaders from Kerala this Lok Sabha election. Is that an advantage and how?
Being young is one of the biggest advantage in contesting elections. I contested for the first time in 2011 as the youngest candidate to the Kerala Assembly. I was the ‘baby’ member of the Parliament. I think people are more willing to accept younger members as they are not corrupt, can pushfor newer ideas. A fresh face is always an advantage.
You have been elected twice from the same Ernakulam constituency to the Kerala Assembly. What are your achievements?
My major focus was on health and education, mostly to revive the government schools. We have provided state-of-the art language laboratories and smart classrooms in government schools. I wanted to ensure that the underprivileged people get better healthcare facilities. I invested a lot of MLA funds into the Ernakulam General Hospital.
There was a project of mine called ‘breaking barriers’,which provided sanitary napkin vending machines and incinerators to 25 schools.It was done to reduce the silence around periods, so that there is a culture of talking about it, so that there is no inhibition in talking about it even later on.
I advocated for more open spaces in the city. The flood badly affected certain areas in Ernakulam district, particularly in Cheranalloor Panchayat. There we have started a project called ‘Thanal’ where we are rebuilding houses for those who have lost their homes. A lot of fishermen families, widows benefitted from this project. We started work on 30 houses and we have finished and handed over 16 houses. Soon after the elections, we will restart the process again. Several people lost their livestock in the floods,with the help of NGOs we have been able to restore some of those.
Sowkhyam is a charitable trust of mine where we do super-speciality medical camps for people. We don’t restrict people from neighbouring districts either. We have done a number of cardiac surgeries. We have started a dialysis unit.
I think will judge and vote for me based on these projects.This election is also an evaluation fo mu work for the last eight years.
What is on your manifesto for Ernakulam constituency?
We have released a 14-point agenda called ‘Envisioning Ernakulam’. We had discussions with people from 23 sectors of the district, and we have included right from tourism to the welfare of the fishermen community.It is an inclusive document. Cochin is a fast-growing city and the manifesto intends to look into the needs of such a city. Expansion of the Kochi metro is also on the agenda, the sea wall that the fishermen community have been requesting… all of this is on the manifesto.
What will be the ripple effect of Rahul Gandhi having decided to contest from Wayanad?
It is a historical moment for the people of Kerala to electa prime-ministerial candidate from Wayanad. His candidature sends the message to those who believe in secularism and democracy and it is a major boost for Congress across the state.
You were one of the younger leaders known to have worked with Rahul Gandhi. What did you do while working with him?
It was a huge exposure. I was the president of Kerala Students Union when Rahul Gandhi took charge of NSUI as AICC general Secretary. I was under 27 and according to the party byelaw, I was of the proper age, so I was given made its national president. My major task was to democratise the organisation – to make sure organisational elections occur. He Wants the system to be open to everybody, everyone should have access to the organisation.
Through a democratic process, that is a possibility. It was a well-thought out idea. I did two rounds of this process across the country; myjob was to dissolve the designated body, announce elections, open up the membership system, organise student meetings with Rahul Gandhi and then get into the process of a free and fair election within the party. So, it went on quite well. We are still following the system.
It is not a 100% error-free system, but his intention was to have a better process in the party. The other option is a nomination process where a couple of people nominate state and district presidents and also tolerated bodies. But there is a pool of people who are in the organisation and their needs to be a system where everyone can participate. I could not think of a better system to choose the head of an organisation. We need to make the system even more robust. After a couple of more elections, there will be a cultural transition in the organisation, which would benefit the organisation later on.
Being at the national level, understanding politics across the country, going to tribal areas have all given me an understanding beyond what I could have got at that time in the state. It helped me understand the working culture of Rahul Gandhi and you realise how democratic his working heis.
You are one of the accused in the solar sex scam and anFIR has been registered too. Will that dent your chances?
This has been in discussion for quite some time – for almost five years or more. After this government took charge, there were petitions, complaints by the concerned person and it was handed over to the crime branch. But, till date there was no move from the government to frame a case against me and my colleagues. Just two days before my name was announced formally, the government chose to register an FIR.
It is a politically motivated case. When my name was announced as the candidate from Ernakulam, they realised they have already lost the elections, that is why the case has come back in focus again. I have gained confidence of the people even though the same allegations were there against me. The case is not going to dampen my prospects.
BJP has used Sabarimala to leverage their position in the state. Do you think it will benefit them?
BJP will not be able to win any seat in Kerala. Of course, the Sabarimala issue has hurt the sentiments of several people, but the people of Kerala, who are extremely political, would think if it is beneficial for them to vote for the BJP.
BJP has taken to communal polarisation in the state too.What is lasting damage of such politics. Will Kerala be able to withstand it?
Kerala has always been a model to the rest of the country and we haven’t fallen for any such communal politics so far, even though the Left has a lot of violence. Communal politics has never been the mainstay here.So, after the last Lok Sabha elections, the voting percentage of BJP has increased and that has created tension in the state.
Wherever BJP has won a few more votes, there has been a rise in violence just like the other parts of the country. The sensible, political voters of Kerala would definitely make surethat BJP is swiped away this time.
What is the threat we fear if BJP comes back to power?
If BJP comes to power, we will be denied our constitutional rights. All the freedoms that we enjoy currently will be taken away, tampered with; the secular fabric of the society would be meddled with. The BJP and RSS would intervene in the functioning of every constitutional body. The main campaign led by Congress this election focuses on bringing back a secular government. In the course of time, if BJP comes back to power, nothing as we know would remain the same, especially the rights we have had for these 70 years.