In a free-wheeling chat with TNM, Congress candidate P Jothimani, who is contesting as part of the DMK alliance in Karur constituency, opens up about being a woman in politics, working with the DMK, and how she plans to face her biggest opponent this election, M Thambidurai of the AIADMK.
What according to you are the main issues plaguing Karur?
The main issue is the lack of drinking water. The people here are actually holding empty water pots and preventing the current MP, Thambidurai, from entering their locality out of anger. The entire constituency is suffering from water shortage. The second issue is that a lot of educated youths are struggling to find a job. They are trying to write competitive exams for government jobs, and applying to private companies. So, there is a need for a competitive exam coaching centre, and a skill development centre, so that they can equip themselves to get suitable employment.
As an MP, how will you make this happen?
If the Congress comes to power, the economy will improve, which in turn will create jobs. And as an MP, I can ensure existing Cauvery schemes are maintained well, improve water tables, and incorporate more rainwater harvesting mechanisms. We need the state governmentâs cooperation to implement these measures. If they donât cooperate, we will take to the roads in protest.
You are the only woman Congress candidate in TN. Will your candidature encourage more women to enter the political ring?
When the candidate is a woman, more women come up to voice their grievances and problems, be it about health issues or infrastructure. My nomination has also caused more women to come join the Congress, and all political parties have now come to the realisation that they need women within the organisation. Earlier, women would be there but they would be very soft and passive. But now women are becoming more dominant, sharp, and they mean business. Any political party you see, women leaders are very dynamic.
What problems have you faced as a woman leader?
Problems stem from societyâs gender prejudice. They see you as lesser than men. I am someone who has worked from the grassroots, from the panchayat level to where I am now. What I have realised from my growth is that men can only fight for issues, but a woman can fight for her gender and issues. It requires double the amount of work and struggle. Whenever I mobilised people in support, the person opposing the cause would say, âYes, what she is saying is right, but how can a woman say all this?â But you need to keep working, serving people, and evolve as a leader. When you persist, the acceptance slowly comes. Irrespective of the political party, as a woman you need to have a strong will and desire to fight it out.
Moreover, politics does not pay and neither is it a steady and planned 9-5 job. When men spend money in politics, they are not questioned; but when women want to spend, the family is not accepting. Financial issues plague women. Further, women are expected to take care of their husbands and elders, and this puts a lot of emotional pressure on them.
What about reservation for women in Parliament?
33% reservation for women will see the light of the day because the Congress President is very committed to bringing the law.
The Congress itself was undecided upon your candidature till the last minuteâŚ
This is not true at all. Only the media has been saying this. From the moment Congress asked for Karur, it was clear that I am the likely candidate.
Is the DMK cadre supporting you on the ground?
In Tamil I would say, âThi Mu Ka ennaku theeya velai seyarangaâ (DMK is working like fire for me). As far as Karur is concerned, Senthil Balaji leads the campaign. In Trichy, KN Nehru leads the campaign; in Dindigul, Chakrapani leads the campaign, and several other DMK leaders and functionaries are working with the Congress. All DMK functionaries are working round the clock. Other alliance parties are also part of the campaign. Thambidurai can hardly face our consolidated attack.
On ground, is this a Modi vs anti-Modi battle?
It most definitely is. Women are shouting that they donât want Modi. Also, people still remember schemes introduced by Sonia Gandhi like MGNREGA and loan waiver for farmers. In a time of agrarian distress, this gives them hope. Even supporters of AIADMK are unhappy with the party allying with the BJP and want to support us.
You were unsuccessful in 2011 and 2014 elections. What has changed now?
In 2011, the alliance got washed out altogether. In 2014, Congress contested alone and people like me did not want to let down the respect of the party, so some of us came forward. But this election, there is wave against our opponents. People want to see Rahul Gandhi as Prime Minister and want to remove PM Modi from his post.
But can Congress be successful without the DMKâs support?
This is an era of coalitions. No party can contest without support from other parties. Even in this alliance, nobody is going alone. So Congress canât be singled out in this.
Your main competitor this election is AIADMK MP Thambidurai. Is this not a tough battle?
Thambidurai is a senior leader and he has held senior positions like Law Minister, and Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha. But when it comes to the constituency, he has done injustice to the people. When you ask people in the constituency, most people donât know who their MP is, despite him winning two consecutive terms. He hardly visits the people here and there is a lot of anger against him.
He knows this too, because he is playing below the belt politics. When I went to file my nomination, he delayed the process and then the media was locked outside the Collectorâs room. We fought for them to be let in as well. He is someone who opposed PM Modi for 48 hours and then did a U-turn. So, nobody takes him seriously.
The DMK has insisted that there should be no entrance exams for medical courses. But the Congress manifesto has mentioned state-level entrance exams.
In a meeting in Salem, our leader Rahul Gandhi has clarified this. He said Tamil Nadu will decide what kind of selection process there should be for medical colleges. We maintain that NEET will not be forced upon states.