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The importance of Rangaswamy Elango[continued]

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Elango threw his hat in and won. But despite his long term commitment to the village and work with harmonising it, he found the margin of victory disappointing. But he understood the powers at his disposal. He rolled up his sleeves. His objectives were two: create jobs and bring in hope.

He did not know his Gandhi formally, but seemed in accord. He would build drains in the poorer ghettos and show them the difference. At the outskirts of the village was a factory that polished granite slabs. It had a huge disposal problem with its random off cuts. It was willing to pay for it to be carried away. Engineer,President Elango was delighted. He employed local labour, and built a drain which had smooth granite mosaic walls. The 'colony' drained fast down the slick 2 km long works. Of the budgeted Rs.15 Lakhs for this project Elango had spent just Rs. 4L, half of which went in wages for local folks. But, the specification was to build the drain with rubble stones from a nearby hill. He had violated 'prescribed norms'. In other words, he had deprived transporters their ferrying opportunity and contractors their civil works one. Vested interests worked overtime. Elango was suspended from office under Section 205 of the Tamil Nadu Panchayat Act [TNPA].

He was devastated. He thought he had made a novel environmental, economic and development statement -- and he had been thrown out and humiliated for his pains. Why had he not heeded those that had said politics was a cess-pool? Why had he abandoned a promising career? What had he to show for Sumathy's support? He went into a deep depression. He thought of quitting.

The Gandhi moment:

Sumathy left him alone for a few days and then made one of her rare visits to Kuthambakkam. She held him and asked him if that was the end of his passions? 'Are you going to give up because of this one set back?'. She had brought a book for him, 'Satthia Sodhanai', a Tamil version of Gandhi's 'My Experiments with Truth'. She left him alone again.

Elango says though he had heard of the book he had not read it. His predicament gave it an immediacy as he read it now. It seemed written for him. He understood the mind of a dogged man who had faced greater odds. The book taught him grit. Within a few days he was in Chennai calmly telling the Secretary to the Government: "No, I will not sue you but sit in protest until you convene a plenary session of my village. Let your charges be read out, my defence heard and the villagers decide my fate." He contacted the press. On Jan 10, 1999, 1300 people gathered and Elango defended himself. Before the sun set on the day long trial, the Government sent in an order revoking the suspension. The entire village had rallied behind him. "I understood Gandhi that day," he says. "First be truthful, then be fearless."

There has been no looking back since then. Elango was re-elected with a huge majority at the end of five years. The graft mafia ran away. Officials backed his approach of cutting out contractors and employing locals instead. As he created jobs, liquor menace receded. He had always paid above the market average, currently Rs.70 per day; and most revolutionarily, precisely the same for women.

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