'Every day, when I deliver milk, I talk to the families and find out what is happening in their lives.'
'That is how you get to know the real issues and find solutions.
At 26, Aritha Babu is the Congress' youngest woman candidate to contest the Kerala assembly election.
Aritha, who lives with her parents in Puthupally in Alapuzha district, holds a post-graduate degree in social work and is currently pursuing her master's in commerce.
Since her name was announced by the Congress on March 14, Aritha's phone hasn't stopped ringing and her house has been frequented by party workers and well-wishers.
Despite her newfound fame and media buzz, the aspiring politician declares that she continues to sell milk for a living.
A few years ago when her father Thulasidharan was diagnosed with a medical condition, as the eldest daughter of the house Aritha took over the responsibilities of the household alongside managing her political aspirations.
"I wake up around 4 am and leave home at 6 am. I have to deliver milk to 15 families," Aritha tells Divya Nair/Rediff.com in a quick telephonic conversation, sometimes interrupted by busy party workers and mediapersons.
Aritha started her political career in 2011 when she was elected the Youth Congress' mandalam secretary. She won her first zilla panchayat election when she was 21.
Why do you think the Congress chose to give you a ticket even while it has denied one to so many seniors in the party?
Although some of the names announced may have come as a surprise, I see it as a good poll strategy. The party chose someone simple and young as me to contest is a huge step in terms of encouraging young ideas and promoting young leadership.
It's heart-warming to see one of the country's oldest parties trusting and giving opportunities to young able women like me.
I am confident that the party has made this decision in the best interest of everyone.
What inspired you to enter politics?
I come from a small middle class family. I have grown up watching my father Thulasidharan and being inspired by his principles and way of life.
My father played an active role in the temple committee and local party.
Our house often doubled up as a party office so I have always been surrounded by party members and have been aware of its workings.
I must have been six or seven (years old) when I would visit the temple with my father.
Over the years, I have seen him talk to people, solve problems and take decisions. He was very hard-working and cared for the people.
When I was 10 I started paying more attention to things happening around me. At 15, the motive became stronger that I want to serve society.
Why did you choose to join the Congress?
Isn't it one of the oldest parties in the country?
When it became clear that I want to enter politics, I felt my ideas aligned more with that of the Congress and I saw that vision and leadership quality in Rahul Gandhi.
How many times have you interacted with Rahul Gandhi? What kind of a person is he like?
I have met Rahulji three times so far. Last year he had come here to Alappuzha and in 2019 too, I met him as part of the line-up. The first time I saw him, there was a child-like excitement and enthusiasm because he is the leader of the party I represent so I obviously look up to him.
In reality, he is such a simple and warm person. He has no airs about him. His smile will instantly make you feel positive. He always greets us with folded hands but we've shaken hands once.
I admire the way Rahulji communicates with people. His ideas are very clear and he has a vision to encourage both women and youth in India. I am privileged to work under his leadership.
One of your senior-most leaders, Lathika Subash, tonsured her head over the party not given enough representation to women, including her, in ticket distribtution in Kerala. What is your take?
I would like to disagree here. Everyone is aware that this is the same party that gave India its first female prime minister.
As the youngest representative, I feel this is a great opportunity for me, a woman, to present my ideas and serve my constituency.
The bigger decisions are taken by senior members in the larger interest and as a member, I stand by what the party decides.
What is your stand on the farmers' protest?
The country's hardworking sons, the farmers, have been failed by the Centre. All those false promises and wrongdoings need to be rectified at once and they deserve to get what is rightfully theirs.
It has been months since the protest began and we haven't been able to give them any justice for all the suffering they underwent. That is exactly why the youngsters both in India and abroad have joined this cause and are doing everything they can to support and encourage our farmers.
You will be contesting against the sitting MLA, U Prathiba of the Communist Party of India-Marxist.
Njan oru nattukari aanu, magal aanu (I am from here, I am their daughter). I hope people here see me that way.
The fact that I won my first panchayat election at a very young age and now, being the youngest candidate who has grown up around here, makes me feel positive about approaching people.
How can young Indians play an active role in politics?
It is important to treat politics without any politics.
When I was a youth wing member, all I thought was how can I make things better, how can I help people? That is all one should think about.
When I start my day, I don't think of myself as a politician. I go about my daily activities.
Every day, when I deliver milk, I talk to the families and find out what is happening in their lives. That is how you get to know the real issues and find solutions.
If you stand up for the right cause, the doors will people and people will support you.
What are some of the issues you are campaigning for?
Kayamkulam is full of small and medium enterprise owners. People (political leaders) who worked here before have been making tall claims about development in this township. But if you visit the bus stand next to the highway, you will know what the reality is.
This highway and bus stand are very crucial for people here. My aim is to help and enable young businesses here to function smoothly.
I also want to focus on compulsory education at the higher level and make women financially independent.
This taluka needs a good hospital and better healthcare facilities. This pandemic was a real eye-opener for all of us.
Kerala has witnessed two major disasters -- first the floods, now this pandemic. I want to do whatever I can to help my constituency recover.