Meet Kerala's youngest candidate this election
'I accept that in India children of politicians are in politics and there is nothing wrong in it but you won't be able to prevail and survive if you are not good,' says 27-year-old Hibi Eden, president of the National Students Union and son of a former MP, selected by Rahul Gandhi to contest the Ernakulam assembly seat.
It may be election time in Kerala but the political banners and posters can hardly match up to the grand hoardings advertising gold shops that dominate the Kochi-Ernakulam skyline.
Hibi [pronounced High-Bee] Eden, 27, the youngest candidate contesting for the Kerala assembly, was on a padyatra in the Ernakulam Central market, one of the city's oldest shopping districts -- past grain, cloth and gold shops -- as he campaigned for his first state election.
The walking has given him a slight limp, as he takes a break by the wayside with a small group of supporters all dressed in white mundus and shirts. "I have walked through my entire constituency," he says as he makes way to have lunch at a vegetarian restaurant.
On May 9, as the campaign drew to its final days of campaigning, Rahul Gandhi, the Congress party's most sought after campaigner, addressed a meeting to give the final push to Hibi's campaign.
As president of the National Students Union of India, spearheaded by the Congress, Hibi has worked closely with Rahul Gandhi and feels the Congress general secretary has brought in a system and uniformity to the Indian Youth Congress and NSUI that was missing earlier.
"He has taken an organisational role and is building a platform for young people like me to be in active politics. He's making space for youngsters in the organisation," says Hibi, whose late father George Eden once represented the seat in the Lok Sabha.
Image: Hibi Eden says he has walked through his entire constituency in this election campaign
Photographs: N V Reuben
'Getting an entry maybe easy for politicians kids but survival is much more harder'
Countering the criticism of the trend of dynastic politics, especially in the Congress party, he says though it is true for other states, it is not so in Kerala. "I accept that in India children of politicians are in politics and there is nothing wrong in it but you won't be able to prevail in the field and sustain yourself if you are not good. Getting an entry maybe easy but survival is much more harder."
"But right now there are a huge number of people in Parliament who have nobody in politics. I started work in student organisations from the age of 15, my father died eight years ago and I have been in student politics at the national level - so to fulfill expectations of the people and fulfill their dreams is a much higher responsibility."
Helped by a group of friends from his college days, Hibi Eden has run a parallel campaign on the Internet with an up-to-date website, using social networking sites to garner support. Daily campaign reports are posted along with pictures and videos. "Being a youngster I can understand the language of youngsters," he says, mentioning that the people who have helped him with the site are not politicians but college-mates -- some of whom are cartoonists and caricaturists.
In the race for getting a Lok Sabha ticket in the last general election, Hibi is among the young people selected by Rahul Gandhi in his drive to bring freshers into politics through the route of student organisation. In neighbouring Chalakudy, K T Benny, another Youth Congress member whose candidature stumped even the state Congress, was brought in to take on a 61-year-old Left Democratic Front veteran in a tough fight.
Image: An election hoarding of Hibi Eden in Kochi
Photographs: N V Reuben
'Kerala is far behind in the IT sector'
"The media has made politics out to be inaccessible and corrupt so common people feel young people can make a difference. Youngsters bring in a freshness and should be like soldiers working for the party," says Hibi, stressing that there is a strong anti-incumbency factor against the ruling LDF government, coupled with a strong mood for change.
When asked about the youth of the state seeking jobs elsewhere in the country because of inadequate opportunities in their home state, Hibi quickly blames the last five years for the total disaster in his state, especially the delay in the Smart City project which would bring in infrastructure and amenities to the state.
"The Smart City Project which was the vision of the UDF government was signed just two months back. It is massively behind schedule. If it had started five years back, the young people would have got many opportunities. Kerala is far behind in the IT sector and we have to do much more to enhance this sector."
He also hopes that with the new foreign university bill coming up, major changes are going to happen for the youth of the country.
"If you study the history of the Communist party in Kerala, computers were strongly opposed by the Left. I am not talking like a politician, I am stating facts!"
Image: Hibi is being helped by his college-mates in maintaining his poll website and in social networking
Photographs: N V Reuben
'Rahul has a vision for the party and the country for 25 years'
That evening he had gone around the city in a open jeep, waving out to people and later stood on the dais with Defence Minister A K Antony who had come to campaign for him. His website has pictures of him with Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram Shashi Tharoor, and Rahul Gandhi, whom the Kerala chief minister referred to as 'Amul baby' yesterday.
'He has come to Kerala to campaign for Amul babies,' V S Achuthananadan had said, riled by Rahul Gandhi's remark that if the Left Democratic Front was re-elected, Kerala would have a 93-year-old as chief minister in five years time.
"Rahul Gandhi has a vision for the party and the country for the next 25 years," says Hibi, "Others have a vision only for 2-3 years which are just painkillers, there is no permanent vision."
"He is acceptable to the whole country for his vision and thought. He is the only person among the young politicians that the whole country looks up to with hope."
Riding on the Rahul charisma and his father's legacy can get him votes, but Hibi Eden has to make his own way.
Image: Hibi Eden at an election rally with Defence Minister A K Antony