Thursday, April 09, 2009

Met the Candidate

These days it is becoming difficult to switch on the TV without ending up in the middle of one of those endless debates between candidates. It is all good to emulate the US TV debate, but just like with soaps and reality shows, it seems that these debates have been beaten to death in a short span of time. Wonder how any of the candidates get time to do real campaigning?

And unfortunately, a lot of the time and effort of these debates as well as the overall discussion about the elections is being spent on non-issues like Coca-cola, Palestine, Israel, Timbuktu and what not! Everybody seems to have missed the point that these elections are to the Lok Sabha of India and not the Fatah General Council in the West Bank! The focus on local issues, on what each MP could potentially do have been drowned out in issues of religion, caste, ideology and general political rhetoric.

A casual scan of the manifestos of most of the candidates in Trivandrum showed that 90% or more of the content is about how each party maneuvered in the last Lok Sabha and about the alleged failures of their rivals. Only a passing mention is seen about the developmental issues of Trivandrum itself. While a MP should not limit his interest to his Constituency alone and should take up issues of national and foreign policy, he should not forget that his prime focus should be where his roots lie.

The Trivandrum Development Front, of which I am a member, has resolved to meet all the major candidates standing for election in Trivandrum and hand over a list of key issues that we feel they could play an active role in, given the responsibilities and powers of an MP. First on the list was Dr. Shashi Tharoor.

We met Dr Tharoor on Wednesday morning. Due to the fact that Congress President Sonia Gandhi was speaking in Trivandrum in the evening, we were told that Dr Tharoor's schedule would be relatively free. However, it seems a lot of people had the same bright idea and hence by the time we got to the head of the queue he was on his way to his first campaign event of the day. However, he graciously invited us to travel in his car and explain the purpose of our visit to him.

So, it ended up as a mobile meeting. Once the purpose and modus operandi of TDF were explained to him, Dr Tharoor was quite keen to work with a development-focussed organisation which works in a professional style, quite like his own. And in between phone calls from well-wishers and the press, he found time en route to go through the key slides of the Investor Tool (available at the top of the sidebar), which talks about major attractions of Trivandrum as an investment destination.

What impressed me most is how approachable and friendly the man was. Even if we discount most of this affability as pre-election PR, it was not difficult to say that there was genuine interest as he went through the slides on my laptop. And to me, the very fact that he asked if he could see the presentation on a laptop, when I mentioned it to him, is a good thing. Most politicians I have met switch off as soon as we even mention a power-point presentation or a laptop. Which is why presentations end up as a print-outs or memorandums, even though the former is a much more efficient and effective, not to mention greener way of getting the message across. Lol, if that was not enough proof that Tharoor is tech-savvy, he packs a Blackberry Storm! An MP who you can communicate with over the email, now that would be something really new!

Shashi Tharoor struck me as someone who has a forward-looking and positive vision, someone who wants to do constructive things even if he is not yet completely sure how to do it. He told me that he had gotten into politics with "public service" as the prime aim. Sure, everybody says that, but his background makes it a lot more believable than most others. It even reminded me of a certain snob-school educated 20-year old who took a leap into campus politics at an engineering college nine years ago. He also said that his experience of the past few weeks has disillusioned him a little bit about what everybody else is in the game for. Perhaps that is more than a little naive, but no more than the rest of us who once upon a time cheered for Rajiv Gandhi or Vajpayee or still cheer for the many avatars of Suresh Gopi. Perhaps that is what we need, a candidate who still believes in the original purpose of being a people's representative, someone who does not go into a campaign already counting the favours to be returned.

He was forward looking in terms of wanting to market Trivandrum to institutions and investors from across the world. One may ask whether that is an MP's job? I say it can also be part of an MP's role. Somebody argued with me that the "twinning of cities" mentioned in Dr.Tharoor's vision is the job of the Mayor. In a strict sense, that is true. But that does not mean that someone with Tharoor's global reach cannot take the first few steps. I am sure that he has been to more cities across the world that you, I or most Mayors can even name, far less talk to. Another charge levelled at him was that he would be an agent for foreign investors. Ahem, isn't that what we are looking for, investment into Trivandrum? I am sure that Dr Tharoor is much less likely to be a shady operator than any of the politicians who make such accusations. I wonder how many of these accusers can claim to have brought in a single rupee/dollar worth of investment into Kerala, other than non-starters like "Smart" City and its ilk?

Dr Tharoor has been accused of not being the "man next door" or not talking enough about the "roti, kapda, makaan" angle which has been used successfully to swindle votes in India since 1947. Untold tens of thousands of crores have been poured into "povery eradication" programmes, to little avail. I am reminded of an R K Laxman cartoon where a politician talks of his schedule in which he is "eradicating Poverty on Wednesday and abolishing Hunger on Thursday". I firmly believe that the socio-economic circumstances of a community can be permanently and sustainable improved only if it is able to internally generate income flows across all sections of the population. And this cannot be done through Government sops, it can be done only through generating direct and indirect employment from new investments. Government doleouts are not only ineffective but cannot be indefinitely sustained from an already-stretched Treasury. Thus, Dr. Tharoor's approach of making Trivandrum a global city which can attract investment from across the world is the correct long-term approach to solve the development needs of the city and its people. Not to say that the immediate needs of the city - such as utilities, sanitation, roads and so on - can be ignored. But they are the domain of people like the MLAs and Councillors and not of the of the MP. The latter can rope in Central aid for projects through schemes like JNNURM and Tharoor goes one step further in mentioning private aid and microfinance.

Lastly, I fail to see what absolute nonsensical issues like the Israel-Palestine debate have anything to do with the election of an MP in Trivandrum. I would like to pose one simple question to the ardent supporters of Palestine, does Palestine ever talk about Trivandrum? Does anyone in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip even know about, far less care about, the happenings in a mid-size city called Trivandrum in a relatively unfamiliar country thousands of kilometers away? There is no denying that not one voter in Trivandrum is bothered by the happenings in Palestine. Dr. Tharoor's article looked at Israel's military response to terrorism only to juxtapose the differences in that context to the context within which we fight our own terrorist problems. It was not adulation of Israeli tactics, although there is no denying the fact Hamas and its ilk are terrorists, by any definition. But why these comments should be a poll issue in Trivandrum is mystifying, at least to the majority of people who would rather mind their own business. Maybe they are not too mystifying to people who would rather sanctify a mass-murderer like Saddam or be more bothered about the happenings in Cuba or Nicaragua or some even more obscure part of the world than about their own backyards.

Or about Poland,!

Atleast in Dr. Tharoor's case, it would be a difficult proposition to claim that he doesn't know about "international politics"!

From my meeting with him, one of the most memorable parts was that he promised to work with passionate young people to promote Trivandrum whatever be the outcome of the elections. I hope that he keeps his promise but at the very least he has taken an interest in the most crucial of issues, which all the other candidates and campaigns have made a footnote out of - the development of our city.

A fitting way to sum it up, is to say that in Tharoor I see someone who is like us, a modern Indian who wants to live in the 21-st Century in a nation which is second to none in the world. Someone who wants to think positive and beyond the limitations of the Past or the Present or the traditional definition of the role of an MP. Not someone who wants to win the game of numbers through playing the vote-bank cards of religion, caste and ideology. As BVN and I often discuss, there will come a time when we decide it is time to raise our hands and try to be a representative of the people, when the need to take action finally forces us out of our slumber. I think in Dr. Tharoor, we see today what we will be twenty years hence. That in itself is perhaps the best reason to caste our votes.


  1. Enjoyed reading this and am happy and proud that Mr Tharoor has decided to take up Tvm's cause when elected from Tvm. And as you rightly said youth is a big factor when a change is required in our outlook and the way we bring this about.
    The way Shashi is trying to bring accross his message thru the internet and media is commendable.
    I hope he continues to try to get his message across to the vast majority of the electorate of Tvm who are not fortunate enough to access these as well.
    Good Luck and all the best to him and I hope his election will pave the way forward for Trivandrum

  2. "A fitting way to sum it up, is to say that in Tharoor I see someone who is like us, a modern Indian who wants to live in the 21-st Century in a nation which is second to none in the world."

    well said

  3. Good job Ajay. Thanks, as a resident of the city :)

    I'm surely encouraged by these words:
    From my meeting with him, one of the most memorable parts was that he promised to work with passionate young people to promote Trivandrum whatever be the outcome of the elections.

    Lets hope Trivandrum will elect Tharoor for our own good!

  4. Great Job Ajay..

    "Not someone who wants to win the game of numbers through playing the vote-bank cards of religion, caste and ideology."

    Thats what we expect from people like him..

    Good luck Shashi Tharoor n Trivandrum

    Thanks Ajay(as a Trivandrumite)

  5. Great write up Ajay. I have made an attempt to look at the TVM elections from a numbers perspective in my which just reinforces what you and BVN have said. Also regarding the debates, the channels seem to have wasted a genuine opportunity and converted it into a mud slinging exercise. They should have held it an atmosphere for conducive discussions by having an impartial moderator asking a set of questions selected from an audience consisting of people from all walks of the society instead of having party workers present there. If they were going to have US style debates they should have done it properly.

  6. Trivandrum Development Front o?! very impressive.

    Good to see you guys a taking a deeper initiative than the rest on your cities development.. exceptional!

  7. Good Job Ajay,

    We really need people like Tharoor who has very aggressive ideas in this modern world.. :-)

    Good luck to him..

  8. Since the time I was old enough to vote, I have had an increasing interest in elections, — local, state and national. Local elections can be easier because we often know the local issues better than we ever know those on the state or national level. Thus it is always better to have a competent person as our representative in New Delhi rather than those stereotype politicians around us shouting at corner meetings like….. “ The allegations are baseless …… and the ‘alligator’ knows that……..!!!!!!”

    Be sure to vote. This should be one of the easiest years of knowing who to vote for. The reason being, from my point of view, we have a candidate who is distinctly different. The scenario is easy to compare, easier to contrast and easy to decide. Each voter will have to make sure which one he wants to represent his constituency and to fulfill many potential dreams. But it should be easy this time. The candidates contesting from Trivandrum are not alike at all. Choose the right candidate, better to overlook the “left” at least for now. If not now, then when?

    Mark my words. Our vote to Dr. Sashi Tharoor could have an impact on our own lives.

  9. Ajay - as a foreign tourist who very much cares about the future of Trivandrum, Kerala and India, I share your excitement about Dr. Tharoor. He seems a very impressive candidate from everything I've heard and read. I enjoy your Trivandrum Rising blog - it presents the city from a different angle than the other media. Keep up the good work and good luck with your efforts to turn a city with such potential into a really world class place.

  10. Hey Ajay,
    You mentioned TDF had resolved to meet all the candidates. Just wondering if you did meet the other candidates. Please do share with us your impression of the other candidates.

  11. Nairji - We didn't get a chance to meet the other main candidates though we participated in their campaign programmes.

    My personal take is that while both Mr. Nair and Mr. Krishnadas are politically astute and capable, they are yet to develop the strong development vision that Dr. Tharoor has. For example, the BJP released its development agenda for Trivandrum a wee bit late - on April 15th.

    The campaign of the CPI candidate still depended heavily on points like Israel, Iraq, Imperialism and the nuances of development limited to the MP Fund. They made no mention of the development seen in the last five years, perhaps because precious little was due to Mr. Nair's predecessor.

    To sum it up, although the LDF campaign was by far the best, my choice among the candidates is unchanged.

  12. Dear Susan, thanks for your support and valuable feedback. It is most impressive that you have been able to understand Trivandrum better than a lot of us who live here. I look forward to hearing more from you, hope you will be in touch. Take care.

  13. A friend forwarded this link and I am glad he did.

    I agree with you on Tharoor. I am sick of all paan-chaboying, Mundu wearing women's arse groping (Nadar) politicians.

    Tharoor is definitely better of the lot and someone I can relate to. Like he asked. What have Malayalam speaking MPs done so far so let us give a chance to a chaste Malayali.

    If he wins then I hope Tharoor walks the talk.

  14. BTW Sandesham is one of my fav. movies. Sreenivasan's sardonic take on Indian politics is humorous and relevant at the same time.


Thanks for your comment, I will take a look at it and put it up at the earliest.