When Congress leaders from across the country were camping in Delhi lobbying for seats to contest the polls, an offer came knocking at a two-room, half-built house at a village in Kerala's Kozhikode district. Remya Haridas, 32, was the surprise name on the Congress list for the state, as the candidate from the reserved constituency of Alathur, a seat held by the CPM's P K Biju for the last two terms.
The daughter of a Dalit daily wager and a Mahila Congress leader, Haridas, who had to give up studies after school due to financial constraints, says the announcement took her by surprise too. "I hadn't sought any ticket from the party. I first heard that I was a candidate from TV channels. Later, leaders called me up to tell me," she says. Follow more election news here.
In 2011, Haridas was one of the leaders shortlisted after a talent hunt started by Rahul Gandhi when he was the AICC general secretary to spot and groom young leaders in the party. A member of the Kerala Students’ Union, the student wing of the Congress in Kerala, since 1998-99, who had gone on to join the Youth Congress at her village Peruvayal in Kozhikode, she was made secretary of the Youth Congress following the talent hunt.
In 2015, Haridas contested as a Congress candidate from Poovattuparamba pision, meant for women from general category, under the Kunnamangalam block panchayat in Kozhikode. She won from the pision as a member of the block panchayat (one of the three-tier local civic bodies in Kerala) and was selected as its president, a post reserved for SC women.
Congress leader K A Sheeba, who was the Congress candidate from Alathur, a reserved SC seat, in 2014, said she had accepted the party's choice of Haridas. Now vice-chairperson of Chittur municipality in Palakkad district, she said, "A few names have figured in the potential list of candidates for Alathur. The party district leadership had sought my bio-data also. But, once the party high command decided in favour of Remya Haridas, we have all accepted the decision and are now working for the success of the candidate."
Back at their home in Peruvayal village, Haridas's mother Radha says they have no money to spare for her campaigning. "The party will meet all the expenses. My main concern is our house started under the Indira Awas Yojana in 2010 that remains incomplete till now."
Acknowledging that she faces a huge challenge, Haridas counts on the fact that she knows the issues of the people. "I have grown up facing a lot of difficulties. The problems of the people are not alien to me," she says.
She cites her work in education with tribal and Dalit children in North Kerala, apart from her involvement with the Ekta Parishad, a Gandhian movement of landless people in the country, following the tsunami of 2004.