Interview: UDF’s lone woman candidate Ramya Haridas expects a second term in Parliament

In the first two terms after the formation of the Alathur Lok Sabha constituency in 2008, LDF had won the seat. In 2019, Ramya Haridas, a Dalit woman, rose to victory in the constituency.
Ramya Haridas
Ramya Haridas
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As the election campaign heats up in Kerala, a constituency spread across the Palakkad and Thrissur districts– Alathur – is witnessing a battle between a sitting MP and a Cabinet Minister from the state. One of the only two constituencies reserved for the Scheduled Castes in the state, Alathur has the United Democratic Front’s (UDF) Ramya Haridas fighting to retain her seat, while the Left Democratic Front’s (LDF) K Radhakrishnan hopes to win back the constituency that had been with the Left since its inception till the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

The Alathur Lok Sabha constituency was formed in 2008, and the LDF secured it in both the 2009 and 2014 elections. 

It was in 2019 that Alathur turned towards the UDF, sending Ramya Haridas, a Dalit woman, to represent it in Parliament. Ramya has the image of the friendly-neighbourhood-candidate among the people of Alathur. Among the voters, she is known as ‘Pengalutty' (younger sister), a name that became popular in 2019. Campaigning for a second term from Alathur, Ramya confidently says that she believes in the people.

K Radhakrishnan, a prominent Dalit face of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)], is the Minister for Welfare of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Backward Classes, Devaswoms, and Parliamentary Affairs. He is a Central Committee member of the CPI(M) and was a former speaker of the Kerala Legislative Assembly and a minister in EK Nayanar’s cabinet from 1996 to 2001.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has fielded the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s Dr Sarasu, a retired professor of Palakkad’s Victoria College. In 2018, she was caught up in a controversy after students of the college built a symbolic grave on her retirement day.

During a brief break in her campaign, UDF’s Ramya Haridas spoke to TNM about her performance in the last term as an MP, hopes for the upcoming election, and the representation of Dalits and women in politics, especially in the Congress. Excerpts from the interview:

Your victory in 2019 is said to have been unexpected, as Alathur has been left-leaning since its inception. What are your hopes for this term? Why would you say the constituency should give you a second chance?

I have been able to stand with the people in their good times and bad times for the past five years. In 2019, they supported me by observing and listening to my actions and words. But this time, they know me personally. I can assure you that this time too, the constituency will stand with the UDF.

Ramya Haridas campaigning in Alathur
Ramya Haridas campaigning in Alathur

As a parliamentarian, how would you grade your performance in the past five years?

A major share of the voters in Alathur are associated with the agricultural sector. Accordingly, I have brought to the attention of both the state and Union governments many issues related to the sector. However, both the governments have not taken any initiative to implement the recommended projects [special agricultural package for Palakkad].

The farmers here are yet to receive the payment for the paddy procured. In some areas, procurement also has not been done. Farmers are being denied money for their hard work. 

One of the ways the government pays farmers is by making available loans, which should be repaid by the government itself. But the Kerala government is not doing that. However, the non-repayment of loans have started to affect the CIBIL (Credit Information Bureau India Limited) score of the farmers. As a result, now they are not able to take another loan, even if it is  for their children’s education or some other reasons.

The Kerala government has already clarified that this loan would not affect the CIBIL score of the farmers. Did you get any complaints?

Before the election was declared, I received several complaints regarding difficulty in availing loans due to this non-payment loan and low CIBIL scores. The farmers have already raised this issue with the government. However, the government is not coming up with any solution.

While discussing the non-repayment issue, the Kerala government alleged that the Union government is delaying payment by not allocating funds. As an MP, have you ever addressed this issue in Parliament?

As I have already mentioned, I asked for a separate agricultural package for Palakkad. But both the governments ignored it. 

We need a proper system for procuring paddy and for making the payment. 

Similarly, it is the responsibility of both governments to increase the minimum support price. The governments have failed to take a decision on this. 

As a parliamentarian, the past five years were important because several new legislations that can affect people's lives detrimentally, like the CAA, Farm Laws, etc, were passed. As a parliamentarian, what were your contributions to such discussions?  

It is each political party that is assigned a certain time slot for discussions in Parliament. The party would decide who all should speak on what all issues. For example, if the topic of discussion is related to the agricultural sector, the MPs who represent such areas would most likely speak, along with a senior party leader.

I have been able to participate in the topics related to the Alathur constituency. Apart from that, I was able to be part of the discussion about women and child issues, SC/ST issues, Women's Reservation Bill, and CAA.

Ramya Haridas campaigning in Alathur
Ramya Haridas campaigning in Alathur

You are the lone women candidate of the UDF in the state. The party faced criticism over not fielding more women candidates. The party’s spokesperson Shama Muhammad had also raised this issue. Did you ever discuss this with the party?

Did you know that it was Sonia Gandhi, a woman, who has served as the president of the All India Congress Committee for the longest time? There have been many long-term women presidents in Congress. Is this the case of other parties? This should also be discussed.

I would like to remind those who talk about women's representation only when it comes to candidates in an election that a lot of women have served as congress presidents. Congress made Indira Gandhi the first woman prime minister of India. Then, Congress introduced the three-tier Panchayati Raj system and ensured women's participation in it.

My stand is that women as well as youths should be considered more. I have been saying this to the party and the party is also considering this.

The Congress party fields Dalits in reserved seats. What do you think about Dalit participation in the party?

As per party bye laws, all sections of people should be included in every organisational level, starting from the booth committee. No one can violate that. So there is representation everywhere.

Many Dalits have been attracted to the BJP even though their ideology can't include Dalits. As a member of a party that you say has sufficient Dalit participation, what do you think about this?

When Congress gained independence, and Dr BR Ambedkar and the Constituent Assembly  drafted the Indian constitution, it was said that anyone could believe and work for any political party. Not only that, anyone who adheres to constitutional values can live in this country, no matter whether you are a believer or a non-believer, political or apolitical. People have the right to work in any political party and to stay away from any political party, because India is an inclusive country.

Some people may want to leave a party, for the sake of their personal benefits. However, Congress is not worried about this.

The people of Alathur call you ‘Penagalutty’. Have you ever felt that this name is a barrier to a strong political image or that people are not taking you seriously?

I haven’t felt that. People from this constituency consider and treat me like their family member. If they like to call me that and it gives them happiness, I am also happy. I believe it will not make any barrier in my political journey.

In Kerala, the Congress and the CPI(M) are fighting against each other. Rahul Gandhi’s candidature has faced criticism from the Left. But nationally, you both are part of a single alliance. Do you think the INDIA alliance has created any confusion among the people? 

It will not create any confusion. Congress is leading the INDIA alliance. It is the Congress, not the CPI(M), that decides where Rahul Gandhi should contest from. The Communist party is confined to Kerala, they can't do anything in Delhi, their only choice is to stand along with Congress. The voters also know this. 

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