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'There's no leader like Rahul Gandhi in India'

Last updated on: April 8, 2011 20:27 IST

'There's no leader like Rahul Gandhi in India'

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Archana Masih
Archana Masih and photographer N V Reuben meet up with one of Rahul Gandhi's chosen candidates in Kerala, an unassuming farmer's son.

A farmer's son with no political lineage, K T Benny was in for a surprise when his name came up as a candidate in the Kerala assembly election. Many in the state Congress party hadn't heard of the Youth Congress worker who turns 37 on April 13, the day of polling in Kerala.

"I can proudly say hard work never fails and I will win," says Benny with a shy smile. "I can see it in each and every face. I am a first time contestant, but I feel people are waiting for me."

Handpicked by Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi to contest the seat, Benny has been hard at his campaign to wrest the Chalakudy seat from the Left Democratic Front.

His day has begun early as he travels through the narrow village roads in an open jeep waving to people as they peep out of their homes, folding his hands in a Namaste with a shy smile that rarely leaves his face.

Young men on motorbikes with Congress flags lead the way, a group of drummers sit in an open vehicle belting out robust beats, an announcer heralds the arrival as the small convoy weaves through quiet green lanes, past jackfruit, coconut and banana trees.

As soon as his jeep comes to halt, Benny jumps out to shake hands with the people. He walks fast, almost breaking into a run and looks out for those standing at the back of the crowd to give them a handshake. He goes into homes, hugs old women and children, even pops into a hospital and a branch of the State Bank of India.

"Politics means being a server of the people. It's not about keeping a distance from the people, but interacting with them at all times. We need to bring simplicity in politics," he says pulling away from the campaign for a while to speak to Rediff.com

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And don't miss this video!


Image: K T Benny, a first time candidate with no political lineage, sips coconut water offered by locals in Chalakudy
Photographs: N V Reuben/Rediff.com
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'In today's politics my boss is like a saint'

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Benny was noticed for his work while working in Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu for the Indian Youth Congress. After starting out in the Kerala Students Union, he stood out for in his role in the Youth Congress election process as an electoral officer.

He received an award from Rahul Gandhi, whom he calls 'Boss' or 'RG', for his work in the Youth Congress and feels thrilled that he got an opportunity to prove his ability to his 'boss'.

Lauding Rahul Gandhi's promotion of youngsters in politics -- there are six Youth Congress members contesting the assembly election in Kerala -- he expresses deep regard for the Congress general secretary.

"In today's politics my boss is like a saint. His simplicity, his mingling with the actual worker, his joining in grass-root level work... There is no leader like him in India."

Rahul Gandhi will address voters in Chalakudy on Saturday, April 9, to garner votes for his protege and wherever Benny's convoy stops, one of the announcements prominently made is about the public meeting. Benny's jeep has posters of Rahul and him together, his election Web site has Rahul's image alongside his.

Even though Chalakudy remains a United Democratic Front stronghold and has gone to the Left Democratic Front only once in the last 50 years, in 2006, Benny, a political greenhorn, knows he needs Rahul Gandhi's charisma to carry him through.

Chalakudy was won by the LDF's B D Devassy, a 61-year-old political veteran, in the 2006 assembly election and comprises the Korattty, Kadukutty, Melur, Athirappilly, Kodassery, Pariyaram and Kokakara panchayats and the Chalakudy municipality.

In the last election, the Communist Party of India-Marxist-led LDF won 98 of the state's 140 assembly seats while the Congress-led UDF won 42 seats.

However, in the 2009 Lok Sabha election, the UDF won 16 of Kerala's 20 seats, and the UDF won almost 60 per cent of the local bodies in panchayat-municipal elections in October 2010 which makes it buoyant about winning this assembly election.

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Image: A poster of K T Benny with Rahul Gandhi. Benny was noticed for his work in the Youth Congress.
Photographs: N V Reuben/Rediff.com
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'Politics means being a server of the people'

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'Shower your blessings on him. After conquering the hearts of many, he is coming your way'

The announcer at the top of the convoy builds the atmosphere as small groups of men gather by a chapel at the crossroad waiting for the party to pass by. Many have not seen K T Benny, though his posters abound -- sometimes pasted alongside the LDF's Devassy.

At another village square, rows of red flags run alongside Congress flags as both parties step up the momentum with only a few days left in the campaign.

"Thank you for a warm welcome. I am one among you and want to serve you," says Benny on a mike at the small stops he makes under trees, near shops and playgrounds. He does not make long winding political speeches, just a few words asking people to vote for him, urging them to come to the voting booth on election day.

Local Congresswallahs come and garland him, as the plastic flowered garlands in Congress colours are quickly recycled by aides, and given for the next round of garlanding. A contrast from the marigold garlands so prevalent in the election campaigns in North India, where popular politicians end up with heaps of garlands on the roof of their cars that aides need to keep clearing.

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Image: K T Benny says he has many dreams for Chalakudy
Photographs: N V Reuben/Rediff.com
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'I come from a farmer's house'

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An old woman welcomes him with a packet of toffees; she blesses him and offers him a candy a gesture that captures the simplicity of the sentiments of village folk, far removed from the mechanical humdrum of city life.

"I come from a farmer's house, my wife is a teacher and I am from a very ordinary family," says Benny as he goes on to explain his wishes for the constituency if he were to become an MLA.

"I want to clearly study about the constituency, its problems especially in the education and IT fields. We must think about Kerala. We have so many resources, but we don't use them adequately," he tells us, tearing away from campaigning as he already runs behind schedule.

"I have many dreams for Chalakudy. It will definitely take time, but I want to create new ideas and promote youngsters from this constituency," he says, calling himself a grassroot operator inspired by the vision, focus and simplicity of his boss Rahul Gandhi.

A fresh face in the fray in Kerala, Benny comes across as a doer, willing to roll up his mundu (dhoti) and get to work, hoping that this birthday will gift him his first election victory.

Watch this election music video!


Image: A woman comes out to bless K T Benny.
Photographs: N V Reuben/Rediff.com
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