Once upon a time, when the Attingal constituency had not existed and it was still Chirayinkeezhu, late actor Prem Nazir, hailing from the village, famously donated an elephant to the Sarkara Devi Temple there. The story goes that upholders of tradition went and questioned him on why he gave an elephant to a Hindu temple. Prem Nazir is believed to have replied, “Asse (a term he used for addressing people fondly), the elephant has no problem with it, Sarkara Devi (the deity) has no complaints, and I have no issues either. Then, asse, is it the passers-by who have a problem?”
Dr A Sampath, the Communist MP from Attingal, contesting for the third time in a row, narrates this tale as he has a hurried breakfast at the Varkala railway station. “Prem Nazir was not a Communist, but I am. And what he told those people decades ago is what I have to say now,” he leaves his line incomplete.
Sampath means the people who ask him about Sabarimala – and the stand that the ruling LDF took in implementing the Supreme Court verdict allowing entry for women of all ages to the temple. There were huge protests against this, men and women coming out on the streets, demanding that tradition (of not allowing women of a certain age) be upheld. You can see where the Prem Nazir story comes in.
The leader’s answers are calm like this, unaggressive and logical. Sampath does not seem the kind of man to ever lose his temper, as you watch him walk through the railway platform, talking to people. He doesn’t spare a young boy, not old enough to vote – “You can’t vote yet? But I see bits of a moustache on you already,” he says and the boy smiles shyly.
Most of them know the face of the MP who has been in charge of Attingal for 10 years now. While people appear fond of him, there have been murmurs of traffic problems affecting the constituency and Sampath not bringing a bypass to solve it.
“The widening of the National Highway 66 is happening, covering 13 kilometres. The notification had come from the Government of India. Objections against taking over the land have been dealt with. It is not a bypass, it is a new National Highway. It would be four-lane with bus shelters and toilets and everything. With the state government’s help, it is all happening fast,” Sampath counters.
Before the last two consecutive terms, Sampath had won in 1996 when it was still Chiryainkeezhu – the same place his dad Aniruddhan had won three decades before that. Incumbency does not seem to work against Sampath. In 2014, he had tripled his victory margin from 2009. He doesn’t make elaborate speeches of why this has happened or the developments he has brought to Attingal. Instead he says, “I am not a merchant of dreams, neither a distributor of big projects. I am one among the people, doing my job as an honest parliamentarian. I do not make false promises like putting Rs 15 lakh into every person’s account.”
In the April general elections, his opponents are Konni MLA Adoor Prakash from the UDF and Sobha Surendran from the BJP. “They are both good candidates. I am not going to speak ill of them the way they do about me,” Sampath says. He does not utter the name Sabarimala, even when he is asked about it. Instead he says what troubles people are the day-to-day problems they have to face. “And there are so many of these. We, as LDF’s members of parliament, represent it there.”
Sampath says the Congress does not try to fight the NDA in the parliament as Left MPs do. “I have asked my friends in the Congress party why have they not taken a strong attitude against the NDA, like we do. That is why once Sonia Gandhi had to repeat the Malayalam slogans that I raised in the parliament against the NDA.”
This happened in February 2018 when Opposition MPs were protesting for the Andhra special package. When Sampath shouted ‘Evide poi evde poi vagdanangal evde poi? (Where’d they go, where they’d go, where did the promises go?), the former Congress president repeated the slogan after him.
The main idea of this election, he says and for once without mincing his words, is to oust the BJP government at the Centre. To put a democratic, secular government there. “That’s the only way the country can survive. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru has said that as long as India as a nation would last, we won’t die. But when India dies, we die too and our democracy is facing such threats.”