The first line that Sobha Surendran says is, of course, the exact opposite of what her opponents begin their speeches with. The BJP candidate from Attingal, her voice strained after days of campaigning, speaks of the central government’s achievements in the last five years.
When the Congress-led UDF and the CPI (M)-led LDF say why the BJP government at the centre should be ousted, Sobha, unaffected by their arguments, simply tells her narrative – “Pinarayi Vijayan’s Marxist government in Kerala did not implement any of the Modi government’s development projects and the Congress party failed in its duty as the Opposition by not reacting in the Assembly.”
Coming out of the Varuvilakam temple in Korani, near Chiryinkeezhu, Sobha has a garland of flowers around her neck. “They have asked me to keep it on,” she tells her party colleagues, and heads to a BJP supporter’s house for a late breakfast.
While eating her food, she speaks to TNM of the Attingal MP Anirudhan Sampath’s “poor work” in the last 10 years. “He has done no development work, implemented no central government project. And about the UDF candidate Adoor Prakash, I ask the voters, do we need a person like him against whom charges of sexual assault have been proven by an investigation probe. An FIR has been registered, too,” she says.
Incidentally, there are quite a number of cases against Sobha, too, and she talks of them without being asked. “Am I a magician to have so many cases in my name from Kasargod to Thiruvananthapuram? It is true that my party workers and I went together to Sabarimala to assert our rights to chant hymns (nama japam). We did not do anything wrong, but so many of us have been arrested. I, too, was arrested for a day. This government has taken a cruel approach towards one’s religious beliefs.”
Sabarimala is a topic that the Election Commission had asked the candidates to avoid using in their campaigns. A Supreme Court verdict allowing women of all ages into the Sabarimala temple was not received well by everyone, and political parties such as the BJP had protested for days on end.
“Teeka Ram (Chief Election Commissioner of Kerala) says Sabarimala should not be a topic of discussion. When elections are happening in a democracy, how can we not discuss the politics of the days gone by? All these months, the Communist government gave leadership to attacks (on protestors). And now, Teeka Ram has sent notice to Suresh Gopi (Rajya Sabha MP contesting for BJP from Thrissur), for using the name of Ayyappa. I want to ask if Teeka Ram is doing the work of the Election Commission or working as secretary of Pinarayi Vijayan’s party at the AKG centre. We will discuss the topic and face the election. We are ready to be martyrs for Lord Ayyappa,” Sobha says, her heated words reminding one of the many speeches she made during the Sabarimala protests.
Sobha had filed a PIL against the police measures at Sabarimala but the Kerala High Court had dismissed it, calling it ‘mischievous’ and also imposed a fine of Rs 25,000 on her. She has also been pronounced "most wanted" for ignoring multiple court summons.
“I will accept all the cases against me like garlands of flowers. I did it all to save our tradition. But what has the Congress, which claims to have stood with believers, done? They sat inside their homes and did nothing. They are now trying to catch fish without making their hands wet,” Sobha says.
Both the UDF and the LDF had come to power one after the other, and destroyed the constituency, says Sobha. She raises the familiar issues of development – the coir industry’s fall, the cashew industry’s plight, the trains that do not make enough stops, the drinking water problem.
“If they can’t even bring drinking water project, what development are they talking about?” Sobha’s words are against both parties.
She goes on, her food getting cold, “The place has so much of tourism potential – we have Sivagiri and Santhigiri and the Varkala hills. Vamanapuram – another assembly that comes under Attingal – is rich in nature. And Peringamala is such a beautiful place, but that is where the Communist government wants to bring a waste plant.”
Sobha has unsuccessfully contested in elections before - in Ponnani in 2006, in Ernakulam in 2009, in Puthukkad in 2011 assembly polls and in Palakkad for the last Lok Sabha election. She claims that she has still managed to increase the number of votes that BJP got in all the polls she stood for.
She is also someone who sits with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the national executive yogam, a high-level body, Sobha claims. “Isn’t it enough that I go to the parliament and look after the affairs of the people?” she asks.