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Madhuri V Krishnan meets Ananth Kumar, the first Indian MP to host an independent website for a candidate
He's mobile and accessible to the masses. Literally.
He talks to you on his mobile -- and tells you that right at that point of time, he is busy being "accessible".
"I shake hands with over a thousand potential voters a day," he tells you, obviously quite pleased with his achievement.
Besides being mobile and accessible, he is also media-savvy -- so he takes a break from the frenetic glad-handing to meet with you. And that is how you find yourself tete a tete with Ananth Kumar -- the first Indian MP to host an independent website for a candidate.
Kumar arrives at the Bharatiya Janata Party office in Malleswaram -- the Bangalore township known for temples and marriage halls -- a good 40 minutes late, and excuses his tardiness with the plea that he came across some more hands to shake.
It was on January 24 that Ananth Kumar launched his own website -- www.dataindia.com. Looks-wise, it reminds you of the election posters now missing, thanks to the Election Commission's strict guidelines, from city walls -- present is the smiling face of the MP, present too in close juxtaposition is prime-minister-in-waiting Atal Bihari Vajpayee, waving out of the computer screen at you -- all mixed in with tricolours, a blurred script of the Vande Mataram anthem, and a mail link in case you happen to feel like sounding off, or quizzing the MP about anything that takes your fancy.
"How do I case my vote for your party through the net?" is a typical e-mail query -- the sender in this case being Shamabhatta Ramakrishnan from Singapore.
Ananth Kumar is nothing if not a la mode. "We have moved away from the base campaigning styles of money, muscle and liquor, to a more refined, issue-based campaign style involving rath yatras, padayatras, novel slogans, slide shows and now, the Internet. And yes, even limericks are part of our new style!"
Sure is -- check this one out:
Not quite what you might look to find in an anthology of world poetry perhaps, but just catchy enough, Ananth Kumar feels, for the theatre of Indian politics.
"By the way," he adds with a grin, "have you seen Roman Holiday? Did you see Princess Anne, in the film, playing recorded speeches and messages to her electorate? You figure out the rest now!"
So what made him pioneer the independent website? "Well, actually, there is a larger motive behind it," he grins. His software-savvy brother-in-law Pradeep Oak chips in with the explanation: "The site is interactive, we've already received more than 50 to 60 e-mails from people across the globe. We want to try and send his message, his motto, campaign strategy to a larger audience and not depend on those who happen to stroll into the site."
Kumar adds: "They say we are a backward-thinking party, but the BJP's mindset is 21st century, we are gearing to face it, and going on the Internet is just one indication of that. I am glad though that I am one of the first to realise its potential and to exploit it."
When I tried logging in, one of those automatic counting devices told me I was visitor number 01753. Not too bad, and it can only get better says Oak and Kumar. Because, beginning later this evening, the duo will launch www.ananth.org, a more personalised site that will offer more updates ("once in two days initially, but we will increase that frequency even further"), share thoughts, discuss problems, invite suggestions... in short, exploit the interactive nature of the Net to the full.
Kumar was sixteen, he says, when his interest in politics was captured by the late Jayaprakash Narayan. Those were the days of the Emergency regime of Indira Gandhi, and he found himself going to prison along with other protestors.
That was his initiation into active politics, and pretty soon he was climbing up the ladder, to become the BJP's state general secretary -- a post he held for close to a decade. He currently holds the highly cosmopolitan Bangalore South seat for the party, and says he is confident of retaining it, by a sizeable margin what's more.
"It's not just me," he adds. "This time, our party will be returned to power with a majority, we are sure about it."
So what kind of 'vote bank' does he, and his party, focus on in their bid for power? "I am typically a representative of a bustling middle class -- industry professionals, executives in public and private sector outfits, that kind of thing. But mind you, my constituency has also got 496 slums! So I guess it's like being a representative of a mini-India, our voters cut across all lines, caste, community, strata of society, they are all here and they all favour our party."
Asked what the fallout of having veteran politician Ramakrishna Hegde's 'apolitical' Lok Shakthi aligned with the BJP? "Obviously," says the candidate, "the alliance is of mutual benefit -- between us, the Lok Shakthi and the BJP will ensure that the Congress gets less than ten seats in Karnataka."
Life, meanwhile, has begun to assume a hectic pace. He leaves home at seven, each morning, armed with a bag of raw carrots, cucumbers and fruits to sustain him as he makes his rounds. The average day, he says, will see him attend at least 15 street-corner meetings, besides visits to individual voters' homes. "It is around one in the morning when I get back home, totally exhausted, for a few hours sleep!"
And what fuels such frenetic activity? The desire, he says, to see his party in power at the Centre. "In this muddle where 13-horse carriages drive in 13 different directions, where multi-billion scams are unearthed at the rate of one a day, where trains run more off the tracks than on them and the achievements of people's representatives are often documented in police history-sheets, in this hugely chaotic system we have today, I will be thrilled if the lotus finally blooms!"
On which sound-bite, he leaves -- for yet another session of hectic electioneering...
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