Winning from the Alathur constituency of Kerala, Remya Haridas made history by becoming not only the sole woman candidate from Kerala to make it to the Lok Sabha but also the second Dalit woman from Kerala to do so. The first Dalit woman MP from Kerala was Bhargavi Thankappan from CPI who had won from Adoor in 1971. Her victory in the elections holds useful lessons which gain importance in today’s times when the democratic values are being put under ruthless scrutiny.
Remya comes from a working-class, Dalit family living in the Kozhikode district of Kerala, her father is a daily wage labourer and her mother a tailor. She has declared to have Rs 22,816 in her bank account. This election marked her debut into parliamentary politics, she has been involved with Congress for two decades now. She started off with the Congress student wing, Kerala Students Union and eventually served as the Block Panchayat President of Kunnamangalam municipality in Kozhikode district. She was one of the frontrunners in Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Talent Hunt’ for upcoming leaders held in 2010 and was chosen by Gandhi to contest Lok Sabha elections. And though she had worked her way up the political ladder from the grassroots, the electoral contest was not a cakewalk. She was contesting against PK Biju, a senior CPM leader who has been the sitting MP since 2009. She connected with the masses by speaking about her background.
Their condescension towards Remya Haridas and image as a young Dalit girl with limited means who spoke to masses in an approachable way pointed towards their lack of understanding of people’s sentiments.
One of the only two women candidates of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), Remya started her campaign with a promise. She said, “I will sing my way into your hearts.” Keeping her promise, she gained appeal by breaking into popular songs and poems while delivering speeches. All the attention that she received for her method was not in good faith. Writer Deepa Nishant made a malicious comment on her singing. The convenor of the Left Democratic front, A Vijayaraghavan remarked that he could not predict “what would happen to her now” that Remya had called on two Indian Union Muslim League leaders, Panakad Syed Hyderali Shihab Thangal and P. K. Kunhalikutty. For this, he was met with a lot of criticism.
Simultaneously, she also had to face strong anti-campaigning activities as the Left went on to spread rumours and objectionable remarks against her. Their condescension towards her image as a young Dalit woman with limited means who spoke to masses in an approachable way pointed towards their lack of understanding of people’s sentiments. Eventually, everything seemed to have worked in her favour as she won the seat by 1.58 lakh votes, an astonishing number, granted her constituency was situated in the red turf. While she won 5,33,815 votes, PK Biju managed to get 3,74,847 votes. Her victory resonated with the victory of the Congress in the state which won 19 out of 20 seats.
Her victory is a ray of hope in a clime of declining democratic health. She fought her way out of the complex nexus of sexism, casteism, classism and majoritarianism, in a time when sectarian forces are gaining momentum across the nation.
Although Kerala has a progressive record and gave a strong vote against the centre-ruling BJP and the state-ruling CPM, it lags far behind in terms of women MPs, as mentioned earlier. Remya was one among the only two women contestant from Congress in Kerala. Shanimol Usman, who was the second woman candidate from Congress was also the only Congress candidate to lose.
Her victory is a ray of hope in a climate of declining democratic health. She fought her way out of the complex nexus of sexism, casteism, classism and majoritarianism, in a time when sectarian forces are gaining momentum across the nation. It is important to note that her approach, her language was of simple, popular taste. It comes as a sign of relief when populist diction is widely being used to fuel hate and spread propaganda.
Addressing the reporters at the Press Club after her win, she commented, “I will try to perform effectively as a people’s representative.”
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