Published: 23rd December 2020
At 22, CHRIST Uni's Johnys is one of the youngest Panchayat presidents in Kerala
An MA English Literature student of CHRIST (Deemed to be University), he is the president of Kottayam's Uzhavoor Panchayat
In 2019, Johnys P Stephen moved out of his hometown Uzhavoor in Kerala's Kottayam to Bengaluru, to pursue his master's in English Literature from CHRIST (Deemed to be University). Aspiring to be a civil servant in the future, this 22-year-old tells us how he always wanted to work among the people. Life had other plans, however. The pandemic hit in March 2020 and his university was closed, bringing him back home, close to the people he knows and loves.
Fast forward a few months, the Kerala local body elections happened and Johnys decided to contest as an independent candidate, as part of the 'One India One Pension' movement, from his panchayat ward. But what happened after that was something that he says was totally unexpected. A few days ago, he was sworn in as probably the youngest panchayat president in the country, after winning with a majority of 194 votes. As part of an agreement between OIOP, Johnys will be the panchayat president for the next two-and-a-half years.
"Since my childhood, I loved to interact with people and take part in social work. I would never miss a chance to be with people and work for them," says Johnys, who was active in the National Service Scheme and his church's youth association, during his UG days. His parents are both teachers and he says that they were quite supportive of his decision to fight the polls. "They never said 'no' to any of my life choices. They are quite happy with my win," he says.
Johnys says that he got associated with the OIOP movement only a few months ago. He tells us why. "Common man today is tired of all the mainstream political parties. They're all talk and no action. Every day a new scam comes up and they never really do anything for the welfare of the people," he says. "So, I was adamant about not contesting under a political party's banner. That was when I was introduced to the OIOP movement," he says.
He then goes on to explain what the movement's ideology is all about. "We demand that the government must pay every taxpayer a pension of at least Rs 10,000 a month after they cross 60 years of age. During their young days, all of them would have paid a good amount of money as tax. They deserve a portion of it back," says Johnys adding that the current pension amount provided to farmers is quite low.
The people of his ward, Johnys says were quite supportive of his candidature. "They knew me since my childhood. A lot of them were quite fascinated to see a fresh young and independent face in politics. They have their hopes on me and I must live up to it," he says. "I am currently studying more about my ward and preparing an action plan. Other than that, I am working towards making the panchayat office more accessible for people, make the process quite transparent and work towards getting things done quickly, rather than making people run from pillar to post," he says. Johnys also aims to make his ward a digital ward, start a daycare centre for the elderly, start a career coaching centre for the young people and encourage them to participate in cultural activities. "Basic infrastructure development is an obvious point in my action plan," he says.
Johnys currently has a semester more to study before he writes his final exam and graduates with an MA degree. The online class is definitely a blessing in disguise for this panchayat president. "As soon as I decided to fight the polls, I had inquired with my college and found out that the entire semester will be online. CHRIST has a large campus with over 11,000 students and it is not a good option to call all of them back. This allows me to stay here and work for my people," he says. At the same time, Johnys does not plan to give his Civil Service dreams a miss. "It will be difficult to carry out my responsibilities here and attend civil service coaching. But I am not giving it up," he says.