Q&A: \'My husband would have told me if he had faced any harassment from the govt\'

My husband never indulged in caste politics though he belonged to the Kuruba community which is the deciding factor in the constituency.

The JD(S)-Congress coalition candidate for Kundgol, Kusumavati Shivalli is a political greenhorn who hopes to ride the sympathy wave to victory in the bypoll after the untimely death of her husband C.S. Shivalli. The election has become a matter of prestige for Congress leaders who are fighting tooth and nail to ensure her victory as the result could have a direct bearing on the stability of the coalition government. Kusumavati, who has studied only upto 10th standard, spoke to Deccan Chronicle on her challenges after entering politics. Here are excerpts from her interview.

What inspired you to enter politics?
A lot of people started visiting my house and pressurized me to contest the election just a few days after the death of my husband. I was hesitant to contest as I had confined myself to handling daily chores as a housewife and taking care of my school-going children. Later, I made up my mind to enter the poll fray after my husband’s supporters mounted pressure on me. Top Congress leaders also advised me to contest to retain the seat. Finally, I accepted their plea as I feel it’s a blessing of my husband.

You are new to politics. How will you cope with your inexperience?
I had some idea about politics and learnt a lot from my husband who represented the Assembly constituency for three terms. I also used to redress the problems of the poor who visited my residence in the absence of my husband. I learnt a lot from my husband as he used to spend all his time in the midst of the public. I had accompanied my husband several times while he was on a tour of the constituency.

What are the factors that may work in your favour?
My husband has undertaken a lot of development works during the last one decade. He brought crores of rupees in funds for the constituency by exerting pressure on the state government. Major projects including drinking water supply, road construction, construction of houses for the poor under Ashraya and other schemes were flagged off when he was minister. He used to rush to the residence of the poor and arrange instant medical care. These will help me win the byelection by a big margin.

The constituency has a large chunk of Kuruba voters. What is your strategy as a member of the community to woo them?
My husband never indulged in caste politics though he belonged to the Kuruba community which is the deciding factor in the constituency. I will also take Lingayats, Muslims and other backward castes with me. I am confident of the full support of the Kurubas after the rigorous campaigning by our leader Siddaramaiah. The Lingayats had favoured my husband in all his three victories though my rival candidate S.I. Chikkangoudar belongs to that community.

The dissidence within the Congress is not yet fully resolved. Are you confident of support from disgruntled Congress ticket aspirants?
Congress is big national party and it is quite common to have many ticket aspirants. The other 5-6 ticket aspirants had filed their nomination as they also worked hard to strengthen the party along with my husband for more than two decades. But, the party top brass leaders decided to field me in recognition of the good work done by my husband. They feel that the sympathy wave will help me. Our party leaders managed to convince Congress rebels to withdraw their nomination and all of them are working for my victory.

BJP leaders claimed that your husband died due to harassment by the coalition govt. How do you react to it?
It is all wrong, BJP leaders are raising it with an eye on the election as they don’t have any issues. They are trying to create a sympathy wave in favour of their candidate. My husband died of cardiac arrest. How could the coalition government harass my husband when all leaders are working together to ensure my victory? He had once rejected the offer to join the BJP and used to tell me that he had taken the right decision. My husband would have told me if he had faced any harassment from the government.

There has been pressure to fix a minimum educational qualification to become a MLA or MP. How can you meet voters’ expectation and regulate officials by doing only your matriculation?
I could not pursue higher studies as ours is very traditional family. My father did not allow me to continue my studies as I had to travel by bus to another village. Still, I know how to serve as an elected representative as I learnt a lot from my husband. We have seen several instances of illiterate leaders who use their thumb impressions, becoming legislators or MPs in the country. But I have studied at least till 10th standard.

There is apprehension that your political inexperience can be misused by local Congress leader for their personal gain…
I will serve the people by following in the footsteps of my husband. I have enough knowledge to function effectively as a legislator because I learnt a lot of things from my husband. I will not allow anyone to misuse my lack of experience.

What is your dream for Kundagol which is known for Hindustani classical music?
Most of the projects started by my husband in the constituency have reached the half-stage. My first priority is to complete them. I will take advice from our party leader Siddaramaiah as my husband had developed a good rapport with him. I will work hard for preservation and enrichment of Hindustani music in Kundagol.

How is the response from women voters?
Women used to approach me with their problems though my husband was legislator and minister. I used to take the initiative to find solutions to them after discussing them with my husband. The women remember thus when I approach them to seek votes. There is an overwhelming response from women voters when I visit households.

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