At 35, Hibi Eden is one of the few young politicos who enjoys a strong connect with the local people of Ernakulam, his home district. Rich with the legacy left by his late father and two-time MP George Eden, the Congress candidate in Ernakulam Lok Sabha constituency is a local lad more than anything. However, recently his campaign got a cosmopolitan colour when two politicians from Australia joined his electioneering on the suburbs of Kochi.
Nick Wakeling, a Liberal Party member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly since November 2006, who represents the electorate of Ferntree Gully, and Bradley William Battin, the member for Gembrook in the Victorian Legislative Assembly from 2010, joined Hibi's campaign trail at Vennala in the afternoon of Wednesday (April 10), the day Onmanorama followed his hectic electioneering.
It was a rare occasion in the otherwise monotonous, yet euphoric, campaigning of the Ernakulam MLA who toured parts of Thrikkakkara assembly constituency that day. Hibi was at ease while interacting with the foreign politicians who joined the campaign trail out of curiosity to learn how the giant exercise of elections take place in the world's largest democracy. The Australian leaders enjoyed the campaign, pillion riding bikes, even as their presence multiplied the enthusiasm of the local crowd.
Hibi began his day at Mundampalam, four km from Kakkanad. The small junction, which is evidently a stronghold of the Muslim League, an ally of Hibi's Congress, was all prepared to kick off its favourite leader's campaigning for the day in a charged manner. Firecrackers burst as soon as Hibi arrived at the spot, moving straight into a crowd comprising supporters of Congress and Muslim League. Fresh and energetic, Hibi ensured that he made a personal contact with all those gathered even as receiving garlands and shawls from them.
The day's campaign was formally inaugurated by Thrikkakkara ML A and senior Congress leader P T Thomas with a brief speech. Thomas headed the campaign throughout the day accompanying Hibi in an open jeep, filled with local leaders. It was strange to see a senior leader like Thomas taking the role of a commentator, announcing Hibi's arrival and thanking the people for the reception given to the candidate. At one area, Thomas, known for his commitment to the cause of the environment, was heard advising the people not to burn plastic as it would cause pollution and a lot of health issues. He gave the piece of advice to the people on behalf of the candidate as well.
The campaign, which started around 7am, was scheduled to cover 17 points, up to NGO Quarters near Kakkanad, by 10 am. However, the plan got changed as the party gave a break to the campaign at Kuzhikkala as Hibi had to go to the Lakeshore Hospital to pay last respects to Kerala Congress (M) supremo K M Mani, who died the previous day. Once Hibi and other leaders were back after almost an hour, they were running much behind the schedule.
Garlands and bananas
Hibi's campaign was all typical Congress affair with local leaders in neatly pressed white khadi shirt and dhoti following him everywhere. Hibi's local clout was evident throughout the day as people from various walks of life received him with garlands and shawls. The only moment of aberration in the tone of campaign was when a group of Youth League activists gifted him a bunch of bananas and adorned him with a crown.
Hibi stands in the open jeep throughout the campaign and get down at each point for a brief interaction. He delivers his speeches from the jeep mostly. Following him in car, at one point team Onmanorama could witness an emotional moment when Hibi stopped his vehicle to walk into and greet a differently-abled man who was waiting outside his house to have a glimpse of the candidate.
Hibi's campaign speech, which he repeated at every point, was based on the Congress' slogan – “we will regain India”. He stressed on the need to regain the idea of a secular and democratic India from the clutches of the “fascist” BJP government at the Centre. He sought votes on the “golden symbol” of hand, in a bid to tell the audience how much he valued his party. When Hibi took a break at the house of one of his campaigners at Sobha Road near Chakkaraparambu for lunch, Onmanorama asked him, was he consciously avoiding attacking the CPM-led Left government in Kerala. “Not at all. I speak about issues concerning each locality. Yesterday when we visited some flood-affected areas, I spoke about the mismanagement of the flood situation by the state government,” he said. He said the opinion polls that predicted his victory have increased his confidence. Asked about how he survives the torturing sun during the campaign, he said of late he had been drinking a lot of water following advice from friends and family.
Before the lunch, Hibi had a bath and he changed his clothes – again a pair of khadi dhoti and shirt. He must have wished for a power nap as he was seen yawning around noon amid the campaigning. However, there was no time. Immediately after the lunch and a photo with the host family, he boarded a car to resume the campaigning.
A vote for Eden
The punchline that many of the campaign posters for Hibi carries is “Hridayathil Hibi Eden” (Hibi Eden in the heart). In the carefully designed posters, 'Eden' is typed in bigger fonts than 'Hibi'. It's a clear reference to Hibi's father George Eden, one of the most popular leaders Ernakulam has produced.
P T Thomas, being a seasoned politician, was never to miss a chance to invoke the legacy of George Eden. When the campaign vehicle reached the points near Thengode, he kept telling the local people that he was proud to seek votes for Hibi from them as Hibi's father George Eden had once allocated Rs 13 lakh for the government school at Thengode. However, a matured Hibi was never heard using his father's name for votes.
The campaign covered Vennala and Thrikkakara West regions in the afternoon and Edappally at night. The campaign went late into the night and the participation of people increased in the evening sessions as temperatures came down. It ended near Al Ameen School near Edappally around 10 pm.