By Aditya Aamir
Congress President Rahul Gandhi filed nomination papers to contest from the Wayanad constituency which Thursday, turned into ‘Human Sea’ with thousands lining up streets and crowding squares to catch a glimpse of Rahul accompanied by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. Up north, in Amethi, BJP candidate Smriti Irani, looked like she was in break-heart pass, the limelight going south to bypass Wayanad, tri-junction Kerala-Karnataka-Tamil Nadu.
As Gandhi-family pocket-borough Amethi loses some of its privileged sheen, Wayanad is where all eyes are set. People from not only Wayanad and the rest of Kerala but also denizens of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka thronged Rahul-Priyanka Road Show’s route, prefixed and affixed to Rahul’s bandwagon.
But does Rahul Gandhi know wild animals stalk the constituency? They come out of forest lairs and descend from mountain fastness to disturb humans bent to tasks in cleared forestland, once free-range for elephants and big cats. Rahul should know pioneer land-buyers, mostly Christian migrants from central Kerala, crowded wild animals into shrinking jungles and forced adivasis to make a hasty retreat in early last century.
Does Rahul Gandhi know ‘his’ constituency; if so, how well? Rahul is the sort of politician who surrounds himself with armchair experts. Mostly young, they campaign on Twitter, and voters of Wayanad are woeful twitter-warriors. But they know their pepper and their coffee beans, plantain and banana. Can Rahul Gandhi tell the difference? He’ll have to.
There is this reporter who writes, “In Wayanad, Rahul will be greeted not just by the ecstatic mob of Congressmen alone, but a motley crowd of grim-faced farmers and Adivasis as well.” Astounding reportage. How does this guy know beforehand it will be an “ecstatic mob” of Congressmen or a “motley crowd of grim-faced farmers and adivasis”?
That said, it’s fact “farmers and adivasis” are the two big chunks of voters in Wayanad. They make up 40% of Wayanad’s voters. The Wayanad farmer is affected by climate change, is victim of public and private moneylenders; is hit by the free-fall of farm-produce prices and dogged and dragged by wild animals, alpha-predators. The Wayanad adivasi is in no better shape. If anything, worse off. They fall squarely in Rahul’s ‘Nyay’ bracket.
After the initial years of hard back-breaking work, the second and third generations of Wayanad-farmers lived well-off lives. Pepper, coffee and cardamom made them rich. They lived life king-sized. Then land got “raped” and the environment degraded. Prices of commercial crops crashed. Moneylenders took charge. Today, the farmers, nearly 21% of Wayanad, are living on borrowed money and borrowed time. Will Rahul Gandhi be able to improve their lot if he doesn’t become Prime Minister?
Last August’s floods left farmers devastated and depressed. Loan burdens, drought-like conditions, results of diminishing forests and ill-conceived tourism initiatives, left holes in the hilly terrain, green cover gone. Rahul Gandhi has his work cut out. He can start by giving a good read to the Madhav Gadgil report.
Wayanad needs to strike a balance between human and wildlife. Road and rail connectivity ought to improve and environmental concerns should not be overlooked. Medical care for the people should go hand in hand with education. Food security for the tribal and other poor should be guaranteed. Successive UDF governments did not do much for Wayanad, where’s the guarantee Rahul Gandhi will?
The Congress is a strong entity in the state. Even if he doesn’t become Prime Minister, he still can make a difference in the lives of the people of Wayanad. According to reports, Rahul is not that unfamiliar with Wayanad. He’s been in and out of the constituency before. The problem is Rahul has a less than sterling record in Amethi. And Smriti Irani is hollering this “fact” from Amethi. Also, it wouldn’t be a cakewalk. The LDF and the BJP-BDJS combine, both, have Rahul Gandhi in their crosshairs.
The state Congress unit has its task cut out. It cannot let Rahul Gandhi, Congress President no less, lose. Religious groups have a considerable say and sway in Kerala politics. Even atheist-communists like Pinarayi Vijayan and Prakash Karat understand which religious denominations ought to be courted, which should not be. Rahul Gandhi cannot wear the ‘Janeou’ over his kurta in Wayanad; that much is fait accompli. (IPA Service)