Arya Rajendran, 21 and a second year B.Sc Maths student, could be the country’s youngest mayor ever. The daughter of an electrician, whose entire family are supporters of the CPM, Arya is to be named by the party as head of the Thiruvananthapuram City Corporation, after the LDF won 51 of its 100 wards in the recent polls.
Arya, who studies at the all-women All Saints College, won from Mudavanmukal ward. “Ours is a party family,” says father K M Rajendran, explaining Arya’s interest in politics. Rajendran, wife Sreelatha, an LIC agent, and son Aravind, who did automobile engineering and works in the Middle East now, are CPM members too.
The 21-year-old first became associated with the party when she joined its children’s collective Baalasangham as early as Class 5. “Later, I became the district president, and have been state chief of the Baalasangham for the past two years. Due to my active role in the Baalasangham, I was taken into the Students’ Federation of India (CPM students’ wing) and I am part of its state committee,” Arya says, attributing the CPM’s decision to choose her as mayor — a formal announcement is expected on Saturday — to this close, old association.
Half of the seats in Kerala’s local bodies are reserved for women, while top elected posts are kept aside for women for alternate terms. The last mayor being popular leader V K Prasanth, it was the turn of a woman to hold the post. The two women leaders the CPM had projected as mayor candidates both lost the election.
Despite being active in politics for years, Arya had to keep her academic life apart. Both her college and the school she studied in, Carmel Girls’ Higher Secondary School, are Church-run institutions that don’t look favourably on campus politics. Arya expects she won’t be able to attend classes regularly once she takes up her new assignment. “But all my teachers and friends are really helpful. I will figure out a way to continue my studies as well,” she says.
The family, that lives in a small house in Thiruvananthapuram paying a rent of Rs 6,000 per month, never discouraged her participation in politics, including extensive travel across Kerala. “I have visited almost all the districts in the state. But my only travel outside Kerala has been to Mumbai, arranged by my mother’s office. I don’t remember much as I was in Class 6 then,” Arya says. It was due to the family’s financial pressures that her elder brother migrated for work, she adds.
On top of the list of Arya’s role models is Kerala Health Minister K K Shailaja, “for the amazing work she has done” during the Covid pandemic. She also counts Sugathakumari, a veteran Malayalam poet and activist who died this week, and prominent Malayalam writer K R Meera as inspirations. Arya says she doesn’t hold a rigid stand against religion, her party ideology notwithstanding, occasionally accompanying her mother to temples and visiting church. “I believe in positive energy, which is what God is for me, but I stand against superstitious beliefs,” she says.
Top CPM Thiruvananthapuram leader and a minister, Kadakampally Surendran, says he has been seeing Arya since she was a child. “The youth and new generation, they are the future of this country. They have clarity about the need for transparent political systems, they have bigger dreams and a vision. Arya has experience, she is very good. Her age is not a cause for worry as we have plenty of examples of young civil service officers delivering amazing work as district collectors,” he says.
Legendary Malayalam writer M T Vasudevan Nair also welcomes the CPM decision. “It is not about a party but I feel happy for her,” he says.
Waiting for Saturday’s formal call, Arya says it is only after this that she will plan her priorities for Thiruvananthapuram. However, top of her agenda is waste-handling. “The last regime had done a lot and we have to do more.”