By Manjunath Bhandary
I joined the Congress party in 1978 as a 16 year old idealist, dreaming to reform my birthplace of Shimoga in Karnataka. Now, at 52, I filed my nomination last week to contest my first Lok Sabha election from Shimoga as the Congress party candidate. A lot has happened in these 35 years. Professionally, I rose through the ranks of the Congress party from being a Taluk President to District President to State President to General Secretary of the Karnataka Congress party. Academically, I went from being close to a high school dropout to graduating with a M.Phil in Political Science with a peak achievement of receiving the prestigious Eisenhower Fellowship award in 2004 by the Philadelphia based Eisenhower Foundation, headed by President George H.W. Bush. Linguisitically, I went from a Tulu speaking solo linguist to a English, Hindi, Kannada & Tulu speaking multi-linguist. Geographically, I went from Shimoga to other big cities of India to eventually many countries across the world. Politically, I went from working with district leaders to state Chief Ministers to Cabinet Ministers and watched the 2004 US Presidential elections as an insider. Behaviourally, I went from being an idealist to a cynic to a realist and now I am back as an idealist.
Shimoga has undergone a dramatic transformation too – from a population of 7 lakh with literacy rates of 40% to 18 lakh people now with 80% of them literate. When I toured America as an Eisenhower Fellow in 2004, I would constantly hear the phrase “The American Dream” which meant that everyone in America had an opportunity to work hard and make it big. I look at my own life and muse that I live the “Indian Dream”. For all the cynicism and negativity we hear everyday, I look at my own life and realize how wrong this perception is. And so are hundreds of thousands of people like me from small towns in rural India who have had the opportunity to rise and grow despite hailing from very modest backgrounds. So, I have often wondered why the rhetoric is no negative? Why don’t we flaunt our “Indian Dream” proudly as the Americans do. I came to the conclusion that it is a case of a few big rotten apples spoiling the whole basket. Few bad elements that capture headlines and the entire profession or society is painted with the same brush. And the former Chief Minister of Karnataka BS Yediyurappa is one such person. Having experienced my hometown of Shimoga being ravaged through illegal land deals and mining by Yediyurappa who was later indicted by the Lokayukta and expelled from the BJP as Chief Minister, when it was evident that he will unashamedly contest the Lok Sabha elections from Shimoga on a BJP ticket again, I could not sit back quietly.
I had never contested a Lok Sabha election before and had not even aspired to. But with Yediyurappa’s return, I threw my hat in the ring to take on the might of a former Chief Minister in Shimoga. It’s the idealist in me that compelled me to prove electorally that there are limits to debauchery and sin in our society. I am not prepared to accept our current rhetoric that all is gloomy about integrity in politics. As a lifetime Congresssman, I truly believe the party is undergoing a dramatic transformation in reviving the ideals of the past and I want to be part of that transformation. I want to show that good can still triumph over evil in real life, not just in our comic books and movies. I want to fight Yediyurappa.