The doctor-activist from Wayanad who fought elections against Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi in Rae Bareli and Amethi | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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The doctor-activist from Wayanad who fought elections against Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi in Rae Bareli and Amethi

May 07, 2024 12:08 AM IST

Dr Paramananda found it his duty to contest in Rae Bareli against the then PM, who, according to him, had curtailed civil liberties in the name of the Emergency

It has been 47 years since a young physician working as a doctor among impoverished tribals in Wayanad in northern Kerala travelled to Rae Bareli in faraway Uttar Pradesh swiftly changing trains and hopping from one bus to the next.

Dr. Nalla Thampi Thera Paramananda(KA Shaji) PREMIUM
Dr. Nalla Thampi Thera Paramananda(KA Shaji)

In Rae Bareli, he filed nomination papers against the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who had just lifted the 1975-77 Emergency and was leading the Congress party’s election charge in a momentous general election that was coming up.

Dr. Nalla Thampi Thera Paramananda found it his duty to contest in Rae Bareli against the then PM, who, according to him, had curtailed civil liberties and approved all excesses in the name of the Emergency, which, in turn, she had claimed to have imposed to protect the unity of the nation.

Born in Nagercoil, in southern Tamil Nadu, and having studied at different government medical colleges in Kerala, fighting an election in the Hindi heartland was difficult for Thampi, who had very little command over that language.

The journey to file nomination was his first journey outside southern India, and Rae Bareli would have presumably looked and felt strange to him.

As it turned out, it became the sole election in which Gandhi suffered an electoral debacle. Socialist leader Raj Narain won the constituency with a majority of 55,000 votes despite Gandhi winning it twice earlier with a record number of votes. It was also a seat her estranged husband, Feroze Gandhi, represented in 1952 and 1957.

Despite having no funds to campaign and little ability to converse in Hindi, Thampi emerged third in the race by fetching 9,311 votes.

When Thampi reached the constituency, most in north India could have been unaware of the pristine hills of Wayanad where tribal lands were usurped on a large scale by settlers and encroachers from outside. It was not seen as a popular tourism destination then. The nearest rail links were in Mysore in Karnataka and Kozhikode in Kerala while the nearest airport was in Kochi, also in Kerala, 268 km away. Connectivity with the rest of the world was a cause for concern in Wayanad as most roads were not motorable.

Thampi's engagement with electoral politics did not stop in Rae Bareli.

After Indira was assassinated by her security guards in 1984, he went to Amethi to fight against Rahul's father, Rajiv Gandhi, who he felt was turning the Congress into a family business.

A sympathy wave was sweeping the whole country at the time over the brutal assassination of Indira Gandhi, and Rajiv was emerging as the country's conscience keeper: Amethi was not ready to listen to Thampi and he could only get 539 votes.

“During these two instances, I discovered the extravagant spending of political parties and leaders to safeguard their long-standing strongholds. In 1985, I initiated legal proceedings in the Supreme Court, advocating for the establishment of set expenditure restrictions for candidates and political parties. Despite the court dismissing the petition for technical reasons, the judges gave me a patient hearing,” Thampi wrote about his experiences in a Malayalam piece, which focused on election disputes.

Now, when the former prime minister's grandson, Rahul Gandhi, is contesting in Rae Bareli, many in the heartland town will likely know Wayanad only as his alternative constituency. Like Rae Bareli, Wayanad was also a Congress citadel, though it lacked any VIP presence until the general election in 2019 when Rahul Gandhi won the seat.

Now, while the debate is raging on which of the two constituencies Rahul would prefer to retain if he wins both, few people even in Wayanad remember the activist doctor.

Thampi was closely connected to the marginalised and disadvantaged tribal people of Wayanad throughout his life until he passed away on June 16, 2010.

The doctor, who willingly gave up his job to work for the betterment of the tribal community, resided in a dilapidated one-room rented home in Sulthan Bathery town in Wayanad.

Thampi was born into an affluent Tamil-speaking family in Nagercoil in Kanyakumari but always told his friends that he had consciously made the choice of being poor.

"The last time I saw Thampi, his living room deviated from the typical expectations for a medical practitioner. The stethoscope in the corner had been non-operational for an extended period, and the room was filled with folders holding outdated newspaper clippings and legal mandates. There were at least three kerosene lamps in the room because the Kerala State Electricity Board had disconnected the electricity supply due to unpaid bills,'' recalled Wayanad-based writer and documentary filmmaker O K Johnny.

"I am uncertain if anyone in Wayanad has informed Rahul about this doctor who waged unsuccessful electoral fights against his father and grandma on two significant occasions in recent history. Due to the fleeting nature of public memory, even the indigenous people in Wayanad have regrettably forgotten about Thampi," he said.

"Thampi was at the peak of his youth following the emergency. He was a moral medical graduate who despised the chaotic nature of the internal emergency and the authoritarian control of poor people it entailed. He chose to go from Wayanad to Rae Bareli by utilising public buses and the non-reserved sections of trains only driven by idealism,'' said Echome Gopi, a political activist from Wayanad.

Thampi dedicated the next decades years to working in rural areas among the tribal population.

When the state government failed to fulfil its obligation to restore the lands taken away from tribes as per the provisions of the Kerala Scheduled Tribes Restriction on Transfer and Restoration of Alienated Lands Act of 1975, Thampi initiated legal proceedings before the Supreme Court.

He sought an order to compel the government to carry out the restoration.

In 1999, the court ordered the state government to allocate a minimum of one acre of land to every landless tribal family in Kerala within six months. The court judgement compelled all prominent political parties in Kerala, regardless of their ideological differences, to unite and pass a law that legalises all encroachments on tribal lands. Consequently, the problem of tribal land alienation still remains unaddressed in Kerala.

"Even 14 years after his passing, the general public does not even remember the medical professional who later earned a law degree solely to advocate for the rights of indigenous communities. Contrarily, tribal issues in Wayanad persist as unresolved and complex," Johnny said.

Thampi's physical remains were incinerated at a public cremation ground at Vithukadu near Meppadi in Kalpetta because none of his relatives from Nagercoil came to collect his body. The location of his wife and two children who shared his challenging societal beliefs remains unknown.

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