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Sentiments should not decide our votes, says Kharagpur's Ram Laxmi

Somi Das | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 6:05 IST

Elections are not just about politicians. They are about people and issues. And what really drives their vote.

Catch has, therefore, started a series - 'Meet the Voter' - to capture what different impact groups in the poll-bound states are feeling. This is true insight into the upcoming assembly elections: up-close and hyper-personal.

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Voter: Ram Laxmi

Age: 45 year old

Educational qualification: Secondary-level

Profession: Homemaker; stitches clothes to support family.

Family: Husband is a barber; has two unemployed sons, both are B-Tech; They are Telugu-speaking and live in a railway colony

Constituency: Kharagpur

Candidates: Dilip Ghosh (BJP); Gyan Singh Sohanpal (Congress, supported by CPM) and Ram Prasad Tiwari (TMC)

Politically non committal

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Last Sunday morning workers and leaders of Bharatiya Janata Party were busy prepping up Kharagpur's BNR Grounds for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's maiden election rally. At the same time, a few kilometres away, Ram Laxmi was busy preparing lunch for her family.

Their mud house is a throwback to Satyajit Ray's Apu trilogy - every crack on the doors and windows showcase penury. Yet, there is a well-kept, idyllic charm.

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What makes Laxmi stand out in that mostly Telugu-speaking Railway colony is her readiness to talk politics, while most women shy away from speaking to outsiders.

Laxmi's husband Appa Swamy, 51, runs a "salon". Supported by two planks, an old chair, a tarpaulin cover and one mirror - his shop is the preferred destination for rickshaw puller and daily-wage earners. He makes about Rs 9,000 a month, which is hardly enough.

"I used to add to the family earning by stitching clothes. But earlier this year I had to undergo two surgeries and have been bed ridden," she says.

Both her sons, in their early 20s, did their B-Tech from Visakhapatnam after completing their secondary-level from Andhra School. The older one has been repeatedly duped by job touts, but is averse to the idea of leaving West Bengal for employment.

The younger, more ambitious, son is pursuing a course from ITI, Manesar and wants to move out of the "morbid state that has nothing for people with his education and of his age".

"We never benefited from any government scheme when it comes to our children's education. Andhra School is a government school. But we had to pay for books and uniform and there was no mid-day meal. Higher education was private throughout. We borrowed lakhs to fund their education," says Laxmi.

Her poor health added to the debt burden as she had to travel to Midnapore for good hospitals an pay for her tests.

Laxmi's could be the story of any voter in that locality, or any small town in Bengal - a husband struggling to make ends meet, failing health, highly educated but jobless kids and mounting debt.

Now Laxmi's only demand from the government is jobs for her sons. Better health facilities, she believes, is a luxury that only the rich can afford.

Also read- West Bengal polls: Kharagpur loved Modi, but will it vote for BJP?

Politically, she remains non committal: "We are poor people. We don't understand politics." Her husband is a sworn BJP voter and a huge fan of Narendra Modi. "Bas woh achchhe lagte hain, jo bhi kehte hain acha lagta hai. (I just like him. I like whatever he says. )"

Laxmi, however, disapproves of the fan-boyish behaviour. She says as voters the worst mistake one can make is to be swayed by sentiments.

That says a lot about the power she wields in her family as most other women we interviewed in the locality usually vote for the candidate their husbands ask them to.

Despite everyday struggles, Laxmi's political choices are driven by pragmatism, not pessimism.

Edited by Joyjeet Das

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First published: 29 March 2016, 3:01 IST
 
Somi Das @Somi_Das

Somi brings with her the diverse experience of working in a hard news environment with ample exposure to long-form journalism to Catch. She has worked with Yahoo! News, India Legal and Newslaundry. As the Assistant Editor of Catch Live, she intends to bring quality, speed and accuracy to the table. She has a PGD in Print and TV journalism from YMCA, New Delhi, and is a lifelong student of Political Science.

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