Anto Antony, who has been fielded by the Congress from the Pathanamthitta Lok Sabha seat yet again, is a familiar face to the public, advocating the party’s stance on crucial issues on prime-time TV. Now, seeking a third straight term from the seat, an upbeat Anto talks to Express’ Assistant News Editor Alex Mathew.
Q. You are seeking re-election for a third term, back-to-back. Which is the main plank presented before the electorate in Pathanamthitta, a region that made headlines following the SC order on women’s entry into Sabarimala?
A. There has been growing anger against the state and the Centre. Nobody can support a decision which hurt devotees’ sentiments. Even the Left-leaning voters are waiting for the chance to vote for the UDF which stood by devotees. It is the tremendous response from the electorate coupled with the fact that I have indeed delivered on the development initiatives which keep me upbeat.
Q: Which is the single biggest achievement you have ensured for Pathanamthitta as MP ?
A: There can be no two opinions on this front – indeed, linking of rural roads with the main roads using the Central Road Fund, with over Rs 1,788 crore being spent on development work in the constituency in the past 10 years takes the cake. Setting up a Passport Seva Kendra, which has brought immense relief to the several lakh expats who were forced to rely on the kendras elsewhere ought to be mentioned. Besides, despite being a rural belt, Pathanamthitta now has three Kendriya Vidyalayas, with the opening of new ones at Chenneerkkara and Konni (temporary facility).
Q: Pathanamthitta bore the brunt of mid-August flood havoc. What, according to you, was the trigger? The rehabilitation of flood-hit too drew considerable flak. Your take?
A: The handling of the deluge and its aftermath is a classic example of the state government’s couldn’t care less attitude towards the public. The dams were opened without informing either the public or the District Collector. The rehabilitation process is not making any headway, though the government collected several thousand crore. Indeed, the official apathy will reflect on the polls.
Q: Sabarimala’s development - in what all ways did you contribute?
A: Since Sabarimala falls within Pathanamthitta district, as the MP I got sanction for a National Highway to the hill shrine. The preliminary work has begun on the 116-km stretch and the 28-km extension of Plapally to Pampa stretch has also been included in the NH project. Approval has been gained for three more highways linked to Sabarimala. The road from 14th mile to Mundakkayam has been renovated using Rs 50 crore. Nod has been gained for the new Palani-Sabarimala Highway which comes under the constituency.
Q: One can’t understimate Tiruvalla railway station’s importance, it being only one in the district? Now, has it benefited during your tenure and if so, how?
A: As the MP representing the region in the Lok Sabha, I got the Railways to allot halts for most of the trains at Tiruvalla. This is a major boon to the several lakh Ayyappa devotees who get down at Tiruvalla en route to the hill shrine.
Q: How do you see Congress chief Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Nyay’ scheme?
A: It is the Congress alone which worked for the uplift of indigent sections in the country. The ‘Nyay’ scheme, which guarantees Rs 72,000 a year for 20 per ce poorest Indians, will also be a hit like MGNREGA.
Q: Is the Aranmula Airport project a closed chapter? Will you support new airport projects which may come up in the constituency?
A: The Aranmula Airport project is a victim of the LDF and the BJP’s negative approach towards development. It’s an irony that it was the-then LDF Government which conducted the preliminary work for the airport project. I will probably support an airport project that comes up in my constituency which will help thousands of NRIs and students.
Q: The Opposition charge about the constituency lagging behind in development?
A: Please bear in mind it is the same Opposition which did nothing for the district that has come out with the charges against me. The public will simply laugh them off.
Q: Will your delayed entry impact the outcome?
A: Since the Congress is a democratic party, candidates can be finalised only after detailed discussions. Consequently, the process takes time. On both the earlier occasions – 2009 and 2014 – I hit the campaign trail only after my CPM rival had completed the first round of campaigning.