Journey of Chandigarh woman - from telephone booth to mayor’s office

January 5th, 2009 - 1:47 pm ICT by IANS  

Chandigarh, Jan 5 (IANS) She does not have an upscale address or family connections to boast of, but she holds the highest civic position in the union territory of Chandigarh. That Kamlesh Banarsi Das has managed to become mayor of the city for the second time is a tribute to her hard work, dedication and simplicity.The story of Kamlesh is special.

From running an ordinary telephone booth, Kamlesh is back in the Chandigarh mayor’s office - the only Congress leader to have entered the coveted office twice in this city.

Kamlesh was like any other lower middle-class woman before entering active politics in 1996 on the insistence of her husband, Banarsi Das. In her 12-year-old political career with the Congress party, she has emerged as an impressive orator and created an image of being a people’s person.

In 2004 she became the first Dalit woman to be mayor of Chandigarh. She was again elected to the post on Dec 1.

Her down to earth attitude and simple living have made her a favourite among the city residents.

Despite her political status, she continues to live with her family in her home in Ramdarbar, a rehabilitation suburb near the city’s industrial area. It was from here that she won the councilor’s election two times.

“I believe that I can understand the problems of the people of my ward only if I live among them in their locality. They are all my brothers and sisters and I can never leave this place,” Kamlesh told IANS in an interview.

Kamlesh won her election as councillor from Daddu Majra village, adjoining Chandigarh.

“I have made a small office in Daddu Majra and every day I reach my office at 7.30 a.m. to hear the grievances of the people of my ward,” said Kamlesh.

“I come from a very simple family and was an introvert and shy. There was a time when just the thought of giving a speech or addressing a public gathering sent a shiver down my spine. Now, all this has become an essential part of life and I am enjoying my political career to the fullest,” she said smiling.

She attributed her entry into politics to her husband who motivated her to contest her first elections from Ramdarbar in 1996. The seat was reserved for a female candidate.

“I was running a telephone booth in Ramdarbar and one day my husband filled my form without even telling me about it. Initially, I was very reluctant to enter this field but the support of my husband made things easier for me,” stated Kamlesh.

“In 1996, during the first municipal corporation election in Chandigarh, I was the only elected Congress councillor out of 20 councillors,” pointed out Kamlesh.

During her past stint as city mayor in 2004, Kamlesh initiated various new projects. These included national and international trips for councillors to see other cities and countries and implement their good ideas for Chandigarh. She herself was the first city mayor to go on a foreign trip - to the Philippines.

“In the history of the municipal corporation here, there were no national or international tours. I started these in 2004. I strongly advocated the need of outdoor trips as only then the councillors can bring in new ideas and innovations. I also got raised the monthly compensation given to councillors from Rs.2,000 to Rs.5,000.,” said Kamlesh.

Mother of two schoolgoing children, Kamlesh is a graduate from the Government College for Girls, Sector 42, here. She was also a judo player and won various medals in state level competitions.

Internet-savvy, Kamlesh uses a laptop in the general house meetings of the corporation to bring forth the problems of her non-urban ward.

“Earlier, I was not well-versed with Internet applications but I learnt it as it has become a necessity now. In fact, I will try to provide a laptop to every councillor here. Everything, like meeting agendas, proposals, requests and details of various projects should be online if we want to end red-tapism and corruption,” she said.

Talking about her immediate aim, she asserted, “I want to become the voice of downtrodden sections and bring an inclusive growth to the city without neglecting the villages on its outskirts.”

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