On Wednesday, April 3, Indulekha Aravind, a feature writer with The Economic Times, was in Kalpetta town, in Wayanad in Kerala, meeting people a day before Congress president Rahul Gandhi was to file his nomination papers from the constituency.
It is the cliched election vox-pop—a big-town reporter in a small town trying to gauge public opinion, usually a tea shop near the bus station, with opinions flying fast and loose—when an old woman saunters by and joins in the conversation.
Elsie M. is 68.
She has done her time as a daily wage earner on the coffee plantations. She is suffering from asthma and high blood pressure. She has just about survived last year’s floods.
She has come to Kalpetta from her home in Kaithakolly, 8 km away, to see a doctor.
Asked by the ET reporter for her reaction to Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest from her district, she mutters the usual and then expresses a desire to see him.
“But I don’t have the money to come to town again – it will cost me at least Rs 300,” she tells Indulekha.
Elsie lives by on the widow pension of Rs 1,100 per month. Spending Rs 300 on an auto ride on the rain-ravaged roads is like a third of her monthly spend wiped out on one day. And what is the guarantee she will get to see Rahul Gandhi?
In the time of elections before the internet, the reporter would have filed the voter’s desire to see a star-politician under “I” for impossible, and the matter would have ended there. Elsie’s quote wouldn’t even have made it to the story.
Not so in social media yug where impossible is nothing.
At 2.04 pm on Wednesday afternoon, ET reporter Indulekha Aravind typed out 42 words and 233 characters on her phone, tagged the right @handle of the state Congress, attached the right #hashtag, and pressed “tweet”.
Exactly two hours later, at 4.04 pm, Divya Spandana aka Ramya, the Kannada actor turned politician who handles social media and digital media communications for the Congress party, responded with six words.
At 9 am the next day, when Rahul Gandhi’s helicopter landed at the SKMJ school grounds, there were hundreds of people craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the man who could represent them in the 17th Lok Sabha.
There was also Elsie—and her granddaughter Priya Shaju and her great-granddaughter, Devika. And Elsie got the chance to not just see Rahul Gandhi,, and his sister Priyanka Vadra, but to get a hug from both.
“I couldn’t understand what they said but they both hugged me. I’m very happy,” says Elsie who gets by with a pension of Rs 1,100 that widows get, rice from the ration shop, and a little help from those around her.
Indulekha’s tweet, and Ramya’s response, had set off a train of events.
Congress general secretary K.C. Venugopal‘s team got in touch with Elsie. Her granddaughter picked her up from their home in Chenamala Colony and brought her to the helipad.
Indulekha Aravind dropped her back home and blogged about the meeting.
Ramya has tweeted her thanks to Indulekha.
Malayala Manorama has a story on its website.
Elsie has even made it to YouTube.
You could call it a photo-op.
You could call it democracy, too.