Deaf candidate Sudeep Shukla impresses in polls, shows the way to disabled political aspirants
He may have lost the election from the Satna seat in Madhya Pradesh, but Sudeep Shukla, India's first deaf candidate to contest the Assembly elections struck a positive, even triumphant note in his post-results speech.
Of the 31 candidates who contested from this prestigious seat, Shukla ranked seven, which is a good performance given that he has no prior experience in politics or a political background. It's a sign of the future and holds out hope for people with disabilities who have an interest in politics.
I am happy to learn from this new experience. It was my first attempt and I went everywhere in the course of campaigning. I have not lost my deposit. I ranked number seven out of 31 candidates and am happy because it's a good performance. Thank you for supporting me, as it is the first time in our history that a deaf person has made his presence felt in politics. - Sudeep Shukla, Deaf Candidate, Madhya Pradesh elections
Shukla was up against heavyweights from both the Congress and the BJP, so a win was always unlikely. That did not deter many voters, who usually prefer going with the tried and tested, from backing him. He was especially attractive to the youth, who saw in him a welcome change - an educated, committed, clean candidate. The disability became secondary.
College students like Aman Mishra were among those who regularly attended his rallies. "We are tired of the same old faces and the same old speeches. We liked Sudeep's ideas and his approach, the fact that he fought in a clean, simple way".
It is this clean and non-corrupt message that Shukla emphasized in his speech. "I would like to say that the Congress and the BJP won because they have so a lot of money running into crores for their campaigns and it is easier for them to win. This is the first time a deaf person has stood against them so do not be disappointed, we should all be happy too".
Shukla is not the first person with a disability to contest elections in India. Way back in 2004, late disability rights leader Javed Abidi had contested the Lok Sabha elections. Para athlete Suvarna Raj too threw her hat in the ring and last year a disabled woman candidate contested elections in Odisha and won.
Politicians like DMKs M Karunanidhi and Ajit Jogi of the Congress, while disabled were not trendsetters. Shukla could be the game changer.
The response to Shukla is a sign of changing perceptions of voters, believes disability rights advocate Nipun Malhotra. "I think Shukla's performance is fantastic and a sign that voters are looking at disabled people as capable and competent. The fact that he ranked seven shows that he has substantial support. It cannot be that only disabled people voted for him".
Malhotra says that it s high time national parties read the signs and set up a disability cell. "There are women cells, SC/ST cells and even minority cells, so why not for people with disabilities?' he asks. "Disabled people are 7-8% pf the population and it is quite shameful that some 70 odd years after Independence, they are still not represented adequately in politics. Some party should seize the moment and set up such a cell. They will have first mover advantage", says Malhotra.
Shukla's performance is a sign that the glass ceiling is breaking. It's just a matter of time before disabled people become a political force to reckon with.
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