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Regaining the people's love and affection

Basking in the success of the mass contact programme (Jana Samparka Paripadi), in Thiruvananthapuram, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy talks about the lessons he gained from the experience.

Published: 23rd October 2013 10:18 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd October 2013 10:19 AM   |  A+A-

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At 8 a.m., on Saturday, one day after the highly successful mass contact programme (Jana Samparka Paripadi) at the Central Stadium, at Thiruvananthapuram, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy’s body looks tired, but his face is beaming. “It was a huge success,” he says, at his office at Cliff House, the CM’s official residence. Amazingly, he had met petitioners for 14 hours non-stop. The tiny breaks he took were to drink buttermilk and a bowl of oats, which was sent by his wife Mariamma. “In a mass contact programme, people think that those who get the benefits and the cash payments are the biggest beneficiaries,” he says. “But that is not true. I am the biggest beneficiary. I became aware of so many problems of the people which I did not know about earlier. This has been the biggest experience of my career. Earlier, I did this exercise in all the 14 districts of Kerala. The knowledge I got about life has been the equivalent of reading 100 books.” And Chandy is happier that the programme has been a revelation to his fellow ministers. “Many of them told me that they did not know that so many people faced so many problems,” he says. At the stadium, B. Lalkumar, a grey-haired man, is carried forward by two men, on a plastic chair. “I used to work as a labourer,” he tells the chief minister. “Five years ago, I fell from a tree, while plucking pepper, and became paralysed from the waist down. Please help . me.”Chandy asks a few questions, nods silently, writes Rs 50,000 on the petition, and signs his name with a flourish. Away from the stage, Lalkumar smiles, and says, “This is a great programme for poor people like me. We get an immediate relief.” Yes, indeed, when Lalkumar's relatives go to a counter manned by the Collector's staff, they are handed over a cheque. Soon, the crowd gasps when a stretcher – its four ends held by Kerala Police constables – is brought and placed on the table in front of Chandy. On it lies S. Pushparaj , 38, in a striped black and white shirt and white mundu. Like Lalkumar, he has been paralysed following a fall from a coconut tree. His three sons, Sujith, 11, Ajit, 10, and Prajith, 8, stand next to their father. “We have no income,” says Pushparaj's wife Geeta. “We depend on relatives and neighbours to survive.” This time, Chandy is clearly moved. He writes Rs 1 lakh on the sheet, and a transfer of the ration card from Above to Below Poverty Line. And so it goes, victim after victim, coming in front of a chief minister, who clearly has his heart in the right place, and immediate relief is granted to those whose lives have been blighted by misfortune, bad luck, and senseless tragedy. At Cliff House, Chandy observes that most of the people had a particular kind of problem. “A large number had been involved in accidents and became paralysed,” says Chandy. “This time, the number is too large. A doctor told me that after a certain point, there is no treatment available in Kerala. Patients have to go to [ Christian Medical College Hospital ] Vellore . I do feel an urgent need to set up a hospital with advanced facilities to cater to these people.” As for the oft-repeated charge by the Opposition that Chandy is doing the work of panchayat secretaries and village officers, he says, “That is correct. And the reason is because there are too many rules which have hamstrung their efficiency. And there is an urgent need to change them. So I cannot blame a panchayat secretary or a village officer. Sometimes, when the panchayat committee will take a decision to do something, the secretary is unable to act on it because of certain rules. As a result, the people get angry.” But Chandy has always had a magic touch with people. Right from the beginning of his career more than four decades ago, Chandy has enjoyed interacting with the common man. “Their love and affection provides me with a tremendous amount of energy,” he says. “And I want to solve all the problems which people tell or write to me.” Chandy reveals that he reads each and every letter that is addressed to him, the majority of which are written by ordinary people. “I learn a lot of things when I read the letters,” says Chandy. Once, during an inauguration ceremony, Chandy lit a lamp while holding the diya with one hand. A letter writer Ramesh Menon (name changed) said that it was a mistake. “It goes against the Indian ethos,” wrote Ramesh. “You are supposed to light a lamp with two hands. And in case, you use one hand, the left hand should be placed on the arm of the right.” A photo was attached showing the right way. Chandy was deeply affected. “Ramesh is right and, thereafter, I have always ensured that I have used two hands to light a lamp,” he says. “Every day I am learning something new.”

 

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