The run-up to General Elections 2009 has seen the emergence of many first timers, two of whom claim to represent the fast-expanding, urban, English-speaking middle class.
While danseuse Mallika Sarabhai has taken a bold political decision to contest on an Independent ticket from Gandhinagar – the constituency of BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate L K Advani - former UN undersecretary Shashi Tharoor has got a Congress ticket from Thiruvananthapuram.
But do English-speaking professionals in politics have a real chance? Mallika: and Tharoor: spoke with CNN-IBN on India at 9, discussing their chance.
CNN-IBN: Mallika, is this just a token fight for you? After all, you are taking on the potential prime minister candidate L K Advani in a BJP bastion like Gandhinagar.
Mallika:: I don’t know that and it’s not that symbolic. I am fighting from the constituency from where I have grown up, where I have worked for most of my adult life, where I have been with the people, I have fought their struggles, I have heard their voices, I have tried to make their voices heard.
CNN-IBN: But really, do you have any chance of defeating Mr Advani as an independent candidate? Is your candidature going to have a real impact?
Mallika: I am in this because I feel our democracy has become a game of politicians. It’s no longer about people. I am here representing a people's voice. If I lived in Mumbai, I would have fought from Mumbai. I happen to live in the constituency from where Mr Advani is standing. Therefore I am in the same constituency. But the point is I want this to become a campaign of truth.
CNN-IBN: (to Shashi Tharoor) You are one of several urban educated English speaking we see at election time - is this part of a trend?
Tharoor:: I certainly hope so. I have been arguing for some time that the educated middle class in our country should not abdicate the political space to others. They too must make a contribution as in every other democracy. These are the people who are the engine of the politics but in our country, they tend to abstain. They are taking to professions - civil services, lawyers and doctors, they don’t go into politics and I think that’s the shame. Certainly like I who spends so much time thinking and writing about the issues that are the outcome of politics. If I now have an opportunity to actually put my feet in the arena , to put my feet where my words were and my mouth was, I think I should take on the challenge. It’s not easy, it’s not familiar territory but I think it’s time for people like us to try and connect with people who have normally not been part of the kinds of daily engagements that we normally conduct in our professional life. It’s time that more professionals got involved
CNN-IBN: You speak of the relevance of educated middle-class people in politics. But isn't that a contradiction? Isn't the educated middle class irrelevant to the electorate at large?
Tharoor:: There's no Parliamentary constituency where educated middle class constitutes the majority. In every part of our country, we have people from different backgrounds. In Thiruvananthapuram, the city is barely 40 per cent electorate. There are rural areas, fishing villages, forests which account for the other 60 per cent. So if you want to represent the entire Parliamentary constituency, you are going to reach out beyond people who are exactly like you, people you have come from a certain kind of educational background or a certain kind of class. As far as I am concerned, I want to represent all of the people of the constituency of Thiruvananthapuram.
CNN-IBN: Ms Sarabhai, your contesting as an independent. Are you making some kind of a statement here that every party is corrupt and ineffectual?
Mallika:: Show me one party that is not. And again if there are parties who really feel they need a different space, who feel they need to reclaim this nation for the people, let them come and support me. This is a people's fight. This is a people's election for us. All the people who feel the way I do, I need you, I need them as brains.
CNN-IBN: Are you then expecting the Congress to back you? Are you reaching out to them by declaring your candidature?
Mallika:: I am not reaching (out). I am not reaching (out) to anybody. I am making my stand clear. I am making the people's stand clear. If there are party's who want to reach out, let them reach out. If there are individuals who want to join us please join us.
CNN-IBN: But again, can someone like you who is English-speaking really reach out to a very different constituency?
Mallika:: What do you mean someone like me? You mean I can't speak Gujarati? I speak Gujarati. I speak Hindi too.
CNN-IBN: (to Tharoor) We've seen others like you English speaking, educated, so called professional elite running for parliamentary seats - TN Seshan, Smriti Irani, Mallika Sarabhai has announced today - why do you think they fare so badly in the polls?
Tharoor:: It’s possible that people have not been able to connect to a majority of electorates. I am reasonably confident that I’ll be able to make that connection. I am going to give my best as far as I am concerned by walking length and breadth of this constituency. I hope to meet with a cross-section of people I can work with. I do speak the language with manifest limitations but I am not a complete stranger. I can be an effective voice for Trivandrum and Kerala in Delhi because that’s where the action is . One has to get elected here but ultimately one's ability to make speeches in Malayalam is not going to make any differences in Delhi.
CNN-IBN: Most of your partymen see you as someone forced from the top - as Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi's candidate.
Tharoor:: Not just as the Congress candidate but as a candidate of the UDF which is the coalition of United Democratic Front in Kerala which is made up a no of parties that stands behind a common agenda and I am their collective nominee.
CNN-IBN: But you're avoiding the question - can you convince them you aren't only Sonia Gandhi's nominee?
Tharoor:: First of all, I'll not attach my name with the Congress President and General Secretary of the party but I am the nominee here because the entire party has chosen through a very rigorous process of election committees, screening committees, extensive consultations for months.
CNN-IBN: (to Mallika): There is also a feeling that your target is really Narendra Modi, that you are trying to prove a point to him by contesting elections?
Mallika:: Then I would have fought local elections, not this one. It is because I think I have come to a point, India has come to a point, where if people like me do not step in, where people who can speak, people who are concerned, who have a track record of having worked for justice, who have stood against everything which is deceitful and disgusting in our politics. If people like this do not step in today, five years from now will be too late
CNN-IBN: So, you will still keep believing that you can defeat L K Advani?
Mallika:: I must believe that, otherwise I cannot believe in the future of this country and I think we deserve our future.