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He is just 32 years old. He has four degrees [B.Sc (Chemistry), B.Tech (Electrical), MBA and LL.B.] to his credit. He is now one of the youngest MLA of Indian National Congress (INC) representing a known left bastion Thirthala. He is part of the so called “Rahul Brigade”; he is “Amul Baby” for former Chief Minister of Kerala V S Achuthanandan; he is one of the most promising young leaders of Congress in Kerala; he is none other than VT Balram MLA. Here is an interview VT Balram gave to Scaling New Heights – one of his first interviews he gave after he was elected as MLA last month. VT as he is known among his friends, well wishers and party circle talks about his politics, his vision for his constituency, his family and more in this interview.
|VT Balram MLA|
Welcome to this interview. You are now VT Balram MLA, representing Thirthala constituency in Kerala Assembly. If at the beginning of this year if someone has come and told you that you will be a MLA in another 5 months what could have been your reaction. Was this a dream come true for you?
It’s a dream partly fulfilled. Reaching a particular position is not that important. At the same time, you need some authority to do something substantially. For me, becoming an MLA is not an end in itself, but only a means to perform my social obligations in the way I wanted it to be. I have aimed at contesting this election sufficiently earlier, but Thrithala was not my first preference.
You secured first rank in B.Sc. (Chemistry), has a degree in Electrical Engineering, MBA in Marketing and Systems and LL.B. After getting all these degrees, normally a person will try to get a job but you choose to become a full time politician. What made you do take that decision?
I was a full-time politician during all this period. I had made up my mind so very earlier, may be when I was in my ninth standard. All these courses I did were in a way to prolong my “student-ship” and to continue in student politics. However, I think that even after taking a job, one can be political to a reasonable level. You can involve in social and political activities at any time, if you have a will and commitment. You can prioritize your time that way.
|Making of a politician - VT Balram during his college days|
How does your college days during your B.Sc, B.Tech, MBA and LL.B shaped the politician in you?
As I said, I was a full-time politician during all these times. But all these different courses gave me a variety of experience in campus life, perhaps very few others have had. I did by BSc in a normal Arts and Science college set up, my B.Tech in a pakka (true) professional college atmosphere, MBA in a university campus, and the LLB at a ‘semi-professional’ and ‘semi- arts and science’ set up of a government law college.These courses, apart from a peripheral idea of a variety of subjects, gave me sufficient time to engage with a complete generation of youngsters coming from different social, cultural and economic backgrounds. That would have helped me much in my career as a social and political worker.
You were the Senate member in University of Calicut from 1998-2001 and then again from 2005-2007; University Union Councilor from Sreekrishna College in 1997 and from Govt Engineering College, Thrissur in 2002. All these responsibilities require you to spend so much time away from class but still you came out with flying colors in academics. Can you please throw some light into how you manage studies and politics together? I don’t think our curriculum is so tough that one couldn’t manage to get a pass or even a first class. I used to study intensively only during the exam days, and the rest of the year gives you ample time to engage in other activities. Anybody with a reasonable IQ could manage that way. It’s important how you plan yourselves.
You were the election coordinator for the Congress Party in the 2009 parliamentary election in the Raebareli constituency where Congress President Mrs Sonia Gandhi contested. Can you tell us some of your experiences working for Sonia Gandhi in Raebareli constituency?
|One of the election posters of VT Balram|Till then I didn’t have a first hand experience with north Indian politics. I spent almost a month campaigning at the booth level, organizing our workers and constituting booth committees. I found it surprising that the party didn’t have a rigid structure below the district level, whereas here in Kerala we have full-fledged booth level and panchayat level committees. I was surprised by the level of caste-consciousness among the people. When I said my name as V.T.Balram, they repeatedly asked about the absence of any ‘Surnames’. From the local people I came to know that majority of the grass roots development activities have taken place only during the last term of the UPA government, in terms of NREGA, PMGSY, IAY, Bharat Nirman, RGGVY etc. Still there is a need to do a lot of improvements in our rural infrastructure.
You are 32 years old now. You have four academic degrees, elected as state general secretary of Youth Congress and now MLA from Trithala constituency. Too many things in a short span of time… How do you see that?
I differ, when you say it’s all in a short span of time. May be the notable achievements came only recently, but I have put in almost 16 years into this field. It is not the case with me alone; most of our generation of young politicians has started their activities at the age of 15 or 16. They all have risked their individual career prospects for the sake of something they believe in.
You were part of the “Rahul Brigade” – nominees of Rahul Gandhi to contest the assembly elections from Kerala. If Rahul Gandhi has to recommend your name he must have been impressed by your activities earlier. Can you tell us your association with Rahul Gandhi?
My association with Rahulji is not personal. It’s at the political level, as I am a member of the Youth Congress and he is the AICC general secretary-in charge. He has a separate institutional mechanism to determine the abilities and contribution of each YC leader across the country. I believe that I have been chosen by him through this system. Earlier I was fortunate to have some assignments from his office like coordinating his ‘Young Professionals’ Meets’ in many states. In him, we see a man determined and destined to bring in ‘the change’ we deserve. In him, we see the prospects of an emerging India where youngsters play an important role in nation-building.
Your reaction on former Chief Minister of Kerala V S Achuthanandan calling Rahul Gandhi “Amul Baby”
Shri. V.S. Achuthanandan is known for such derogatory remarks on others. However, it is highly unfortunate from an octogenarian leader like him to make such a comment on Rahul Gandhi who inspires a whole generation.
But one thing is to be noted. India is one of the youngest nations in the world; we have more number of youngsters than in any other country, perhaps except China. Therefore, it’s quite natural that we need more youngsters in to the field of politics too. Just as we demand 50% reservation for women, we should also ensure a representation of youth in politics and governance proportional to their share in the population. Experience is a good thing. But when we look at the utility aspect, the experiences of many of our senior leaders are obsolete and are not much beneficial for governance of a modern state. The technologies and the way we look at things are changing very fast. The freshness of youngsters may be more relevant in such a context. That may be the reason why we see most of the young politicians as better performers than many of the senior people.
When your candidature was announced by the Indian National Congress (INC) did that came as a shock to you or you were expecting that?
No, as I have already said, I was expecting it. But to some others, it may have been a shock. I had full confidence in the wisdom of our all India leadership to put forward more youngsters, especially in tough seats like Thrithala. We had tried this in the last local body elections too, and was a huge success.
|West Bengal voted for Mamta Banerjee|
while Thirthala voted for VT Balram,
two bastions of Left Front being uprooted
Trithala is traditionally a left bastion. So when the INC asked you to contest from Trithala did you ever thought that you are going to win? Can you share your campaign experiences?
Sure. I was expecting a win from the very outset itself. You are true that Thrithala is a left bastion for the last 20 years. And after the last delimitation of constituencies, situation had become worse for us. But still, thanks to the total disregard to development from the previous legislators, the people of Thrithala were looking for a change. I think I could emerge as a credible alternative in their eyes. Many youngsters, who were never active in any political activity before, enthusiastically came forward for my campaigns. It was a real carnival of youngsters, children, women whom you don’t see in a normal election campaign. There were extensive supports from even abroad, especially from the Middle East.
|VT Balram thanking people after the election victory in |
I remember in the middle of the campaigning you have posted in Facebook your bank account number and asking well wishers to transfer money to your account to be used for your election work. You hail from a middle class family and you cannot afford to spend a lot of money for election campaign. Even though INC will give you some portion of your election expenses, the candidate has to raise a substantial amount of his/her election expenses. How did you raise and managed your election expenses?
My party gave me enough financial support for my campaigns. Many well wishers too donated generously to the election fund. Actually the Facebook initiative was just an experiment; and the response was encouraging; many of my earlier college mates and other friends contributing small but valuable amounts. The importance of such a method is that you get “pure” money donated out of love and solidarity. You won’t need to depend much on established sources which are normally corrupt. Now I have a confidence that if sufficiently followed up, this can be a great source of funds in the elections to come.
Let me ask you about Kerala Students Union (KSU) since you started your political career in KSU. Do you think that the Congress leadership in Kerala needs to invest more time, energy and money to revive KSU in campuses in Kerala?
Certainly. Most of our present leaders have come through KSU, but they have not given adequate support to the KSU workers who face tough challenges in campuses. The SFI and other communal organisations have brought in a culture of violence in to the campus politics. At least moral support has to be given to the KSU workers to face them with confidence.
|With the people of Thirthala constituency during |
As an MLA you may have set goals for yourself for Thirthala constituency, right? So what are your goals for next 1 year; end of 2 years; end of 3 years; and end of 5 years;
My first priority would be to ensure adequate drinking water throughout my constituency. The Pavaratty scheme supplying drinking water to 4 panchayats is becoming obsolete. I have suggested a thorough revamp of the scheme. The cost is a bit high, but I am working on it to prompt the government to take it up as a special scheme. The situation of the rural infrastructure is very pathetic. PWD and village roads need to be renovated on a priority basis. There are many public assets which are underutilized. No hospitals in the government sector have achieved the CHC status in reality, despites declarations in that regard. There are many prospects for tourism, especially health and culture tourism. The rejuvenation of Bharata puzha is very imperative. We need to crush the illegal sand mafia killing the river very fast.
There are many more things to do, to exhibit a steady and sustainable development model.
|Youth Brigade of Congress Party in Kerala Assembly|
From Left: PC Vishnunath, VT Balram, Shafi Parambil and Hibi Eden
Thanks to Rahul Gandhi, so many Youth Congress and KSU leaders got seat this time in the Kerala Assembly election which is unprecedented as far as Congress party in Kerala is concerned and more than 60% of them have won the election. Do you think this will give a boost to Youth Congress and KSU and revive it to the level of the golden past when leaders like Omman Chandy, A K Antony, Vayalar Ravi etc were at the helm of Youth Congress and KSU?
The representation we got in this election is unprecedented. We thank Rahulji for that. But parliamentary accommodation of individual leaders is not our motto. We realize that we need to take up issues of common man’s interest. We need to ensure that the government works to fulfill its commitments given at the time of elections. In that way, we would act as a ‘corrective force’ within our party. We are confident that this would attract more youngsters to our fold who want development of the state.
Who is the politician whom you respect and admire most in Kerala and why?
I have no individual role models. And I don’t think there is any need of it. But I admire leaders like A.K.Antony, Oommen Chandy and VM Sudheeran for more than one reason.
Your views about Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, KPCC President Ramesh Chennithala, Defense Minister A K Antony and Civil Aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi?
All are capable and inevitable leaders of my party. OC is one of the most dynamic and visionary leaders we ever had. I always admire his speed and administrative capabilities. AK is incomparable to anyone else, not even in Kerala politics, but also at the national level. He is a source of inspiration for youngsters like me. His steadfastness, austerity and sincerity in dealing with issues are the most important qualities that attracted me. Rameshji is a brilliant organizer. He has put up a strong organisation giving full support to the administration. I had not got sufficient opportunity to work with Vayalarji, but still I admire him for his love for party workers. He is one of the most knowledgeable leaders we have.
|VT Balram fasting in front of Thrissur Corporation to ban Endosulfan|
You are one politician who is very active in social networking sites like Orkut, Facebook etc. I have seen you interacting with lot of people from across the globe in so many forums like Kerala Politics community in Orkut. Now how much these social network sites have shaped the politician in you?
Very much. I had been in to social networking for the last 4-5 years. Discussions in Orkut, Facebook and other google groups like FEC give valuable inputs on many issues. There are instances when I go through such discussions before delivering a public speech. Participating in such discussions helps you to know the different aspects of an issue, which is beneficial for any politician.
Apart from that, I had got many new friends who regularly give me advices and shower constructive criticisms on everything I do. It’s always nice to have such a team of good friends.
Dr Tharoor has landed in trouble using Twitter after becoming a Minister and has to resign later. Now you have become a MLA. Do you plan to reduce or increase your interactions in social media? If you are planning to increase the interactions can you tell us what all you are planning to do if you already made up the mind?
Dr. Tharoor did not resign due to his tweets. He resigned in response to allegations against him related to the IPL issue. Anyway his experience with Twitter gives any politician valuable lessons to be cautious while using social media. I would love to increase my interactions through social media, provided the time permits.
Let us talk some politics now. Congress in Kerala had always strong groups within the party and it was both curse and blessing to the party. Group fight during the last UDF governments headed by A K Antony and Omman Chandy reached such a peak that it threatened to destroy the party itself. There was a time during the last five years that there were no such big group activities in Congress. But now in the selection of Congress ministers the group equations have come to the picture again with MLA’s identified with two prominent group getting node to become the ministers. What are your thoughts on the revival of group activities in Congress?
|V T Balram with Rahul Gandhi during election campaign|Congress party has learnt a lot from its previous experiences. Therefore, I don’t foresee any factional activities in the future in the level we had earlier. But I do agree that there could be a better team from the Congress party in to the cabinet.
Do you have a group in Congress? If yes which?
As of now, No. I have been traditionally aligned with the ‘A’ fraction, but for the last few years, none of our generation leaders are actively involved in group activities.
Now the UDF government of Omman Chandy has razor thin majority. Do you think this government can complete 5 years? What makes you think so?
Sure, we will complete the full term. The thin majority would make the government more cautious and more responsible. We need to assess a government not on the basis of the number of days it is in office, but by the commitments it fulfilled. I hope our new government would have a high ranking based on this standard.
|Some lighter moments|
Now some personal questions… I know you are youngest in a family of 6 brothers. Your father is a retired primary school teacher and mother is a house wife. How does your family helped you shaped the politician in you?
I belong to a traditionally agrarian background. My father was the only earning member of my family supporting 6 school going children. All of us were good in studies and my brothers managed to find their own jobs through hard work. We didn’t have much of a political background. Though my family was not that supportive of my political activities in the beginning, they never put a strong objection to it. I am much obliged to them for that.
You have so many degrees in hand and no job other than being a politician – this was your credential when you married. How did your wife, Anupama take it at the time of marriage? A girl who is getting married will always want to see her husband having some secure job, right?
By the time I got married, I had enrolled as an advocate in Thrissur. However, as with any junior lawyer, the income from the profession was much lower. Still, Anupama was willing to join me. I still wonder from where she got that courage! From there on she is my backbone in all my activities.
You may be a very busy person now being an MLA. You as a father and a husband have lot of responsibilities at home. How do you balance your political and personal life?
|VT Balram MLA with his wife Anupama during their trip to UAE|Things are getting harder these days. I couldn’t see my two months old son for a whole month during the campaign days. It was a difficult situation. Still Anu managed it well. I hope to spend some more time with them in the days to come.
Any advice for young people who want to enter into the world of politics.
Complaining about politics from outside is very easy. But that is a sign of your irresponsibility. If you are genuinely pained about the present state of affairs, you must come in to the system and try to rectify it from within. There is no other go. Technology has given us immense opportunities to involve in politics and social issues, without being a full-time politician. Therefore let’s try to explore those new avenues of interventions to bring in the change we long for. Mahatma Gandhi ji has said: Be the change you wish to see in the world. Let that message guide us. Thanks VT for your time. Hope all your dreams come true and scale new heights in your political career by serving the people of Thirthala, Kerala and India. Good Luck.
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