Exactly 10 years ago, today, on the eve of the 2008 assembly election in Karnataka, I wrote about Puttamma, one of our two divine helps at home.
Puttamma was then 34
Unlettered, separated, she lived literally on the other side of the railway track, with her two children, a son and a daughter.
After working at our home in the morning, Puttamma would be Amit Shah‘s dream by evening, a pakoda-maker frying potato, chilly, onion and banana bajjis.
In that 2008 piece, I wrote why Puttamma would vote for the hastha (palm), the symbol of the Congress, and not the kamala (lotus).
“Puttamma will vote hastha because the hastha helped her mother: 20 years ago.
“Apparently, Puttamma’s mother had a problem with her father’s pension, and a Congress leader helped them secure it.
“That one small piece of help of some unknown Congresssman a long time ago has earned the eternal gratitude of Puttamma’s family for 20 years running.”
Despite Puttamma’s vote, the BJP won the 2008 election.
In that same piece, Puttamma revealed the two things she wanted for the future.
She wanted her daughter Mamata (who had got 391/600) in her 10th standard exams to do her engineering, like her elder sister Hemavathi‘s daughter.
And she wanted a permanent roof over her head.
Ten years down the line, I am happy, correction, I am delighted to report that namma Puttamma has quietly achieved both her objectives.
Puttamma is now 44.
She still works at our home, which is a minor miracle considering how often people change their domestic helpers. (Our other help Manjula has been around even longer.)
Objective 1: Her daughter Mamata is now an MBA, married, with a year-old daughter, Likitha (in picture, above), and looking for her next job.
Yes, MBA, thanks in part to the local Congress corporator D.S. Nagabhushana who got her subsidised admission, when it became difficult for Puttamma to make ends meet.
Objective 2: There is a now permanent roof over her head, thanks to a government scheme which allotted people like her heavily subsidised houses for Rs 40,000 to rehabilitate them from their slums.
The house was allotted six months ago. Puttamma has paid Rs 15,000 in instalments.
But most importantly, she says, she and her son are both entitled to get seven kilograms of free rice each month thanks to the ‘Anna Bhagya’ scheme of the Siddaramaiah government.
“Food, education, housing. What else do I need?
“I am eternally grateful for the way life has turned out.”
Needless to say, Puttamma will vote for the hastha once again, as will her mother Jayalakshmamma, and her brother and sister, and presumably many in their families.
That makes it 30 years of gratitude to the Congress.
Will that help the Congress win?
I bring up the example of Puttamma for three reasons.
One, to show the role of gratitude in politics, which is never captured in any opinion poll or survey, or oped piece or analysis.
From many parts of Karnataka, one hears anecdotal stories of how the Anna Bhagya scheme has stopped migration and staved off hunger despite two if not three years of drought.
Will those, who were touched by the scheme vote with their stomachs?
We don’t know, but certainly the polls do not indicate that.
Two, the poor, even the urban poor, are able to extract more out of our democracy than the middle and upper classes, who are forever cribbing about this, that or the other.
And three, there is a lot that happens between elections, not just at the time of elections, that helps voters make up their minds.
The way the media paints elections, it would seem elections are all about giant rallies, thundering speeches, road shows, TV debates, advertisements.
They might well be, but there are also subtle undercurrents which are built up over months and years which we in the media are not properly poised to hear.
Which is why I was proud to use Puttamma’s example at the launch of a CSDS-Lokniti-Azim Premji University report on “Politics and Society between Elections” last week.
Because, democracy at the end of the day is about people like Puttamma, whom those who view it through the tinted glasses of a Toyota Fortuner are likely to miss.
postscript: Puttamma’s corporator—our corporator—Nagabhushana’s daughter died prematurely a few months ago.
Guess which of the two in the picture above went for the funeral?