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And the political troops go marching in

A Ganesh Nadar | July 21, 2008

A V BellarminThe bugle has been sounded, the battle lines have been drawn. And as the war for New Delhi heads to a climax, the warriors trooped into the capital, to join shoulders for the fight.

A V Bellarmin is waiting for the Kanyakumari Express to roll into Nagercoil station. But you cannot make out that he is a warrior heading out to the front line.

There is no entourage to see off the Member of Parliament from Nagercoil, the headquarters of India's southernmost district, Kanyakumari. No slogan-shouters to boost his morale.

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Instead, he boards the air-conditioned compartment inconspicuously, finishes his dinner from a small tiffin box, and settles down for the overnight journey.

The next morning, he is up at 5:30 am, talking to about the United Progressive Alliance government's trust vote -- the first inkling any of the passengers get that he is an MP.

Bellarmin is the text book definition of a veteran Marxist. He has been with the Communist Party of India-Marxist for 42 years, and got his first election ticket after 38 years of service to party.

"In our party the candidate does not need money to fight elections -- the party provides everything," he declares, adding that he had a business for 10 years in Tirunelveli. "I could not run it because of my political activity, so I left that business and started a spare parts business that doesn't require my presence all the time."

His business provides for his family; he does not need the party stipend. And for all the shouts and murmurs of this being the best season to be a Member of Parliament and figures in crores being bandied about, Bellarmin is untouched by that.

"We are very disapointed with the Congress," he continues. "The (India-United States) nuclear deal is not part of the (UPA's) Common Minimum Programme and we had warned them about it. Secondly, the performance of the government has been sad on the inflation issue. We have a finance minister who says he cannot do anything. Then he should go -- why does he continue?"

"We (the Left) also wanted to do something about the unorganised sector. Do you know that 75 crore people are in the unorganised sector? Our biggest issue apart from the nuclear deal is that nothing has been done for the unorganised sector."

"Every time we brought up the topic, they (the Congress) set up a committee to look into it. The NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) is our baby and they are taking credit for it. The implementation of the NREGA is very poor. I just came back from Hyderabad where I went to see how it's being implemented there. I am a member of a Parliamentary committee that is studying the implementation of the NREGA. We will be giving suggestions on how to improve it."

Like a seasoned politician who knows he has hit upon a purple patch, he goes on to enlist more reasons for the Left's move to plunge the country into political crisis at a time when the India Story is encountering its first question marks in the form of indicators like runaway inflation.

"The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) removed the oil pool on the say so of the private oil companies. This government did not reinstate it. That was a cushion that protected the common man from the international fluctuation of oil prices. Every time the oil prices went up, the taxes on it also went up. That adds to inflation. They know that, and yet did not do anything to change that."

Meanwhile, the train stops at the penultimate station, Mambalam, which is Chennai's biggest retail market. Bellarmin is received by a young man, his driver. The MP has tea at a roadside stall and proceeds to the nearest CPI-M office to take a bath and change.

After breakfast, he proceeds to the airport. Unlike two Union ministers of the DMK, S S Palanimanickam and Subbulakshmi Jagadeesan -- who enter the airport in official vehicles, with officials fawning over them -- Bellarmin walks in past security, like just another passenger.

He reads the newspaper and catches what would qualify as a power nap. At the Delhi airport, he is out in a jiffy, as he does not even have check-in baggage. He is received by his driver, and carries his small bag himself to the vehicle.

He is driven off to his Talkatora Road residence, into the heart of the capital's power war.

Image: A V Bellarmin at Chennai airport. Text: A Ganesh Nadar. Photograph: Dominic Xavier.

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