Saturday, September 26, 2009

Kalavati Parshuram Bandurkar

Printed from

'Money is no longer a problem, being a celebrity is'

Kalavati Parshuram Bandurkar












widow and mother of nine, shot to fame when Rahul Gandhi mentioned her in Parliament last year. Soon enough, she was being feted by politicians and sought by the media. On the strength of her sudden celebrity status, this illiterate woman from a nondescript village in Maharashtra’s Yavatmal district, recently agreed to contest the forthcoming assembly elections on a Swatantra Bharat Paksha (Sharad Joshi) ticket. The decision generated controversy and many advised her to stay out of politics. On Friday,she filed her nomination for Wani constituency, but late on Saturday, it remained unclear if she would stay the course.









Shishir


Arya
caught up with Kalavati in Nagpur. Excerpts from the interview.

Why do you want to fight the elections?
I want help for the widows whose husbands have been forced to end their lives because of an agrarian crisis. The poor should get homes. It doesn’t matter if I win or not, but by contesting elections, I think, I can get them help from the Rahul Gandhi (government). I am not contesting to become an MLA but I want to attract Rahul’s attention towards the poor widows.

Rahul Gandhi made you famous. Why didn’t you ask him directly for a Congress party ticket?
I am not contesting to win. So, the question of rivalry with Rahul Gandhi or Congress does not arise. Rahul is my benefactor. Had it not been for him, I would have been the same ordinary Kalavati. But, providing help to me alone is not enough, there are others like me for whom I need to raise my voice.

Rahul said your family’s life would have been different had there been enough power in the country and you had access to it. Do you agree?
Well, power would be the last priority. I need to have a regular source of livelihood first. We shifted to Jalka village because we only had a three-acre patch of land in Chandrapur district. In Jalka, my family has been tilling rented land. Even if there were power to irrigate the fields, no one would have rented out an irrigated field to us. So, what I need first is land of my own to eke out a regular living.

Bindeshwar Pathak, who founded social service organization Sulabh Shauchalya and is one of your benefactors, has urged you to desist from politics as it indirectly means opposing Rahul Gandhi. What do you have to say to that?
Ask him to keep his word first. He had said he would give me Rs 30 lakh, which would lead to a monthly bank interest of Rs 25,000 for 20 years. But so far, I have only received Rs 6 lakh. A chunk of it has been spent on my daughter’s marriage and building a new house. They say I have become rich. Do you think
Rs 6 lakh is a big amount these days? It has to be at least a crore or so to be called rich. Pathak should stick to his promise and pay the remaining amount. I have heard that he has refused to give any more. It was written in the newspapers. My kids read it out to me.

Why are you annoyed with Bindeshwar Pathak? Had it not been for him, you wouldn’t have had any money at all?
That is true. But if he promised to pay Rs 30 lakh, it should be fulfilled.

How has life changed since you received the money?
I am a farmer even today. I go to the fields, monitor the labourers from 10 in the morning to 5 in the evening and even have my lunch there. What has changed is that we no longer have to skip a meal and the kids can wear good clothes. Money is no longer a problem. Earlier, life was tough, we had either to eat a very frugal meal or starve at times.

What drove your husband to end his life?
He owed Rs 1 lakh, all borrowed from relatives. Three of our daughters were married within the two-year period before he died. In 2005, the fourth daughter’s marriage was fixed. That fateful day, he went to the fields worrying how he would arrange to repay the money. We had a poor harvest that year and hardly anything could be spared after paying the landlord. In desperation, he ended his life.

Would you withdraw from this election if Rahul Gandhi asks you to?
Let Rahul Gandhi provide a solution for the troubles of 6,000 other widows like me and then I will withdraw from contesting the elections.

Do you understand the importance of being an elected representative?
May be not, but I will become seasoned with time.

Do you dream of going to Delhi and become an important politician like Sonia Gandhi?
Wani (the constituency from where she is contesting) is Delhi for me. What is the need to go all the way to Delhi? Politics in villages is equally complex and I am slowly learning the tricks. It is indeed very interesting.

Are you in touch with Rahul or anyone from his office?
No, but several other persons,
including journalists, have been coming to my house. I don’t know if there was someone from Congress too. But, then, it was only due to Rahul’s visit to my village I got all the help, if not directly from him.

Are you scared about being treated like a celebrity?
Yes, I was a little scared initially when people came to meet me. But not now, I am used to everything.

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