By T S Sudhir
Anish Peter is heavy built. He also has a heavyweight voice. I meet him at a rather decrepit looking studio in Kottayam town, called Pyramid Recording Studio. Studios like this one are indeed part of the political pyramid at the time of elections in Kerala. This one produces campaign material for the UDF.
Peter tells me he has been a small part of the elections in Kottayam for a quarter of a century now. Peter, who in non-election time, is the voice for many a documentary feature in Malayalam, has spread his vocal chords beyond his district this time, and can be heard from loudspeakers in Alappuzha as well.
But in the polarised world of Kerala politics, Peter cannot do a Lal Salaam. “LDF politicians have seen me over the years as an UDF voice so they do not give me a chance to record their campaign material though I would love to.’
And then he justifies it by saying “Perhaps if the same voice asks voters to vote for both the UDF and LDF candidates in a constituency, that also will not sound too good.”
Travelling some 5 km out of Kottayam town, I meet K K Thankan in Kallupurikel. This 72-year-old tailor with an infectious smile runs `Shobhana Tailors’, named after his brother’s daughter. I find the entrance to his modest shop decorated with cutouts of the beaming face of the local LDF candidate. Thankan doesn’t wear his party loyalty on his sleeve alone, in fact, he wears it all over his shop. Huge photographs of EMS, E K Nayanar and other Communist-Marxist stalwarts occupy the walls of the shop and red cloth is all over the place.
For the last 45 years, Thankan has been stitching CPI(M) flags and banners. A bachelor, he tells me he has to work day and night during election time and during party conferences when there is pressure to deliver upto 500 flags and banners. “At that time, I have to say no to my regular customers who want me to stitch shirts or trousers for them. My only condition to the party is that I will not take any money to stitch the flags.”
This, Thankan says, is his way of paying tribute to the ideology he so firmly believes in. He has been part of the organisation in Kallupurikel though never part of the power structure. His entire family too believes in the Marxist way, he says and come April 13, his family’s 24 votes will all be cast in favour of the LDF candidate. A huge admirer of V S Achuthanandan, Thankan believes the 87-year-old is good enough to be CM for another five-year term.
Thankan has one grudge though. An environment-friendly grudge at that. He says plastic banners and flexes have reduced the demand for cloth flags and banners this election and you can well expect Kerala to be reduced to God’s own garbage bin after it casts its votes, he rues.
Travel through Kerala a week to go for elections and you discover the fight is as much for votes as it is for wall space. UDF, LDF and the BJP book walls many months in advance to paint their name and symbols. Alongside every slogan, you will find a sign that says `UDF booked 2011′ or `LDF booked’.
I meet Prabhu in Ernakulam, who tells me he has been a Congress supporter all his life so when his neighbour, Thangarajan who is also a Congress councillor requested if the party could `borrow’ his wall, he was more than willing to offer brick and mortar support for free. “They will whitewash it after the elections,” he says.
“It is not always free,” says Shaji Thomas. “But if the parties give money openly, they could get into trouble with the Election Commission. So it has to be done secretly.” Bookings, Thomas says, are done five months before elections and though parties are expected to whitewash it after polls, candidates who lose seldom keep their word.
Strict Election Commission guidelines may have reduced the colour element but in this extremely aware strip of land from Kasargode to Thiruvananthapuram, passion for politics is a huge unifying factor. One that polarises it as well.