Bennet Abraham, 55, was born in a village close to Trivandrum. He is an anesthologist who has worked to revive a mission hospital belonging to the church of South India and served as a member of the Kerala Public Service Commission. He is contesting elections for the first time as a member of the CPI, for the LDF in Tirvandrum against incumbent MP Shashi Tharoor from UDF and O. Rajagopal from the BJP as his chief opponents.
When did you join CPI?
Right from my student period in college I was an active left student’s wing leader. And then I went to do my medical studies in Christian Medical College, Vellore where there was no politics and I as submerged into medical studies. I did my graduation and post-graduation both from Christian Medical College, Vellore and then took it up as a challenge to develop a dying mission hospital which was about 90 years old. It had six beds and 3 member staff. Today, it’s the only medical college for the entire Church of South India for the Protestant group. When I’m entrusted with a responsibility my weakness is I put my whole heart and soul into it.
But how did you return to politics?
In 2001, I was nominated as a member of the Kerala Public Service Commission by the Left Democratic Party. So I was a fulltime, active member of the Public Service Commission for 6 years. And then when Late Chief Minister of Kerala, P.K. Vasudevan Nair contested from Trivandrum. I was an active worker for their party. Then an active campaigner for Mr. Pannian Raveendran.
But this is the first election you are fighting elections.
Yes, in the secular, political circle. But I have fought elections that for the Church in South India as well as on the national level. I’m now also the Treasurer for the whole of Communion of churches in India which comprises of Church of South India, Church of North India and Mar Thoma Church. It’s office is in Delhi.
So tell me this, one is, a lot of people had reservations but the party gave you a ticket.Why do you think? And secondly why did you decide to take it?
See, the first question why did the party give me a ticket. As I told you earlier, I am somebody born and brought up in the soils of Trivandrum. I’m the son of the soil. Twice the Left asked me earlier whether I am willing to contest. I said no. I somehow felt that I should be doing what I had learnt and 28 years I served in a rural area bordering Kerala-Tamil Nadu. Well, now I realise this would give me much more scope for humanitarian service.
In short if you could tell us what according to you are the principle issues of this constituency that you would like to address as an MP.
Trivandrum is the capital of Kerala, but if you look at Trivandrum many of the benefits which a capital should have are not there. The poor villagers, the fishing community, the drinking water is a big problem for them. Drainage, sewage disposals are a big problem. I would like to take care of this as my primary concern. Next, definitely I shouldn’t be forgetting the developmental programmes of Trivandrum. The IT park is coming up. It’s very close to the airport. I would like it to be promoted to the next phase. Probably you would never see a railway station like Trivandrum with just 5 platforms. You look at the neighbouring states of Madras Central or Bangalore Central, our station I would say is a micro railway station. But much more can be done for that. Maybe 2-3 kilometres away from the Trivandrum Central railway station there is a place called Nemom where there is 48 acres of land belonging to the railways, south. Again closer maybe another 3 kilometres, there is another big chunk of land at a place called Kochuveli. So definitely, all these 3 can be clubbed together and a lot of things can be done. And I’m sure you’re aware of the fact of Vizhinjam Port. It is supposed to be having all natural resources necessary for that but somehow not even one rupee has been budgeted for that. Another burning issue is that we are probably the only capital in the country which does have a High Court Bench. These are simple things which over a period of 5 years if I am elected I would be willing to do. Also issues like improving primary education in the government institutions.
The current MP Shashi Tharoor is from the UDF and the MP before that was from the CPI. How do you assess their performance?
The former MP had 5 years, prior to that they had only 3 years. But still he was not a person who was projecting himself in flex boards and things like that. He was a silent worker who did lots for the poor. The current MP talks about the national highway. I’m a person as I told you, from the soil. Where the highway ended years back, it is still there. Not even one centimetre has been extended. Trivandrum port, nothing has happened on that site. Maybe everything has been done on paper. But for the common man, and for me to believe things, i must see it, isn’t it? Railway station, nothing has been done. High Court bench, he had promised it in 100 days. So all were promises.
You’re saying no development work has happened here in the last 5 years? It doesn’t seem like that.
Nothing that has been projected till that extent.
So you’re saying there is work, but not it’s not as much as projected?
Statements have been made by your party about Tharoor’s personal life. Why does one need to get into a personal zone when capmaigning?
See I would put it like this- personal life is personal. I don’t want to make any comments on that. But there were 4 and a half years for work.
Debate on work done are valid in a democracy. But would you tell your people when they are campaigning for you not to send personal messages against any of the candidates?
I am very particular that none of my party members should say anything against, to tarnish his image in any way, his personal life.
There was a case against you for misappropriation of funds and you moved the court in 2012 to quash it. Have you managed to clear you name?
The case which these people are talking has nothing to do with me. This is regarding purchase of land for the Church. What do I have to do with that? I was an employee of the church in that hospital. Yes? I had absolutely nothing, not even 1 % involvement in the purchase of land. Because there is a separate properties board for the Church. There is a manager, there is a secretary, there is bishop, there are officers of the diocese who have been granted power of attorney by the head office in Chennai. Unfortunately some political leaders have now brought up all these issues which were dismissed by 3 courts earlier. But each time it comes up just like the Bofors used to come up. Once in 2 years when our Church election takes place disgruntled elements of the Church who have lost power, try to do all these things. Unfortunately now it has been politicised. But the public knows what I am, and I am least bothered about it. My hands are open, my life is open.
Okay. Like you had said, you have also done a lot of work with the church. Your church—there’s a community church as well. You belong to the Nadar community. You have done a lot of work within the community. Tell me how much of a role is caste going to play in this election?
I don’t believe in that. The people of Trivandrum know that politics is not for these sorts of things. Like what you say that I am from the community—all the candidates who are contesting from Trivandrum belong to some community, some caste or the other. So I don’t give any importance to this. I am a representative of the CPI, of the left democratic front. I am with them.
So you wouldn’t say that you are in a better position to represent the backward classes in any way?
See, I would be representing all members of the Trivandrum constituency—whether they be it from forward community or from the backward community.
So are you saying that caste based politics isn’t prevelant in Kerala? There is a lot of speculation about parties asking for votes along caste lines, including yours.
They why do you say that only for Trivandrum? What about other 19 places? See, as far as my party goes they don’t believe in it. I am sure you are aware of that.
Okay, I wanted to ask you—we were talking about left politics; left governments are falling everywhere; left parties are not doing very well in different parts of the world. We were discussing earlier—Calcutta used to be an impregnable bastion…
You only told me that they should bring up leaders. That’s what the leaders here are doing. That’s why I have come in.
My question was different. My question was why do you think it still survives in Kerala?
See, the left in Kerala would have been in power for the second time subsequently. In 5 assembly seats, they lost by less than 500 seats, which is just a narrow miss. So they are very powerful.
What do you think is about this state that keeps the left alive?
See, the reason is what they stand for—secular. They give a lot of importance to secularism. There is freedom. So I feel personally that the left…
But for the sake of argument—there are lots of secular parties in the country. Actually that was going to be my next question: I wonder how do you interpret the left in India? Because, it’s very difficult, when you look at it, we don’t have a clearly demarcated left and right. There will be parts of congress ideologies that will be left and there will even be parts of BJP ideologies that will be left, and right everywhere. So how does your party position itself vis-a-vis these different political ideologies?
See, the party leadership, the party secretariat of the state, and the national secretariat—I am sure we discuss, deliberate these things.
No, but what is it for you that defines the left ideology? Sure, they will make the manifestos…
We are concerned for the poor people. My concern is for the poor people, for the average ordinary man. And there should be minimum available for these people. And there should be a ceiling above which no body should go. There should be a certain amount of justice in that. Here, I mean, if you look at it now, those who have will be going up in number. And those who have-nots will be still becoming poorer and poorer. They should be given a helping hand to come up. And these people also should ne encouraged to extend their hands to the downtrodden.
Are you guys planning to work on an economic manifesto that you are planning to release anytime soon?
No, I would leave all these things to the party leadership.
And will you have your own manifesto—formal or informal—within the constituency?
Yes, that the party leadership will be at it.
And are you planning to release it anytime soon?
I will be discussing it… I understand that the national leadership has released two days back. Now the state leadership will take care of that.
Okay. Thanks a lot. All the best. That’s all the questions I had for you.
(Part of a multimedia series for India.com and DNA)