A right to walk campaigner in India’s Andhra Pradesh state is fighting the elections to change the political agenda in favour of non-motorised transport
Indian democracy’s most vivid symbol – the elections – will have a shade of NMT flavour this year. A campaigner for the right to walk has joined the fray in the elections to the legislative assembly in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Kanthimathi Kannan, who has been declared a candidate, is the founder-president of the Right to Walk Foundation, an NGO working for making the roads of the state capital Hyderabad pedestrian-friendly. She will contest the elections from Nampally, one of the 15 constituencies of Hyderabad.
“I was driven to politics by the issue of pedestrian safety,” says Ms Kannan, her carefully chosen words mocking the mushrooming of cars in Hyderabad, which hosts the Charminar, a world famous monument built in the 16th century as a mark of victory against a marauding plague in the city. Ms Kannan has already hit the campaign trail though the state elections are yet to be announced. The assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh are expected along with the parliamentary polls in April. Shunning the use of any motorized vehicle, she uses cycle rickshaws for visiting voters. With ‘Hybrid Eco-Cab’ written on them, the cycle rickshaws take Ms Kannan and her campaign team to the various corners of her constituency.
“The issue of pedestrian safety is a political thing,” says Ms Kannan. “It is not about whether the people believe in it or not. The present situation putting pedestrians at risk on the roads will not change until the politicians decide we need footpaths,” she adds.
The cycle rickshaw is not the election symbol of Ms Kannan, who is fighting on a ticket of a political party, Lok Satta. “My party has nothing to do with non-motorised transport (NMT), but the party knows my stance on NMT and that is why they gave me the ticket,” says the NMT campaigner, who quit her job as a teachers’ trainer in 2008 to start the Right to Walk Foundation. “I am a walking person. Though I am now a politician, I am only fighting for pedestrian safety,” she says.
The candidate has several things on her mind if she wins the election and gets a stint in the state assembly with a chance to make a change, like making the footpath of Nampally, her constituency, “world class”. “I am also for banning subways and foot-over-bridges,” she says.
Ms Kannan says NMT campaigners like her are needed in today’s politics. “The politicians don’t understand the concept of walking,” she says. “The laws are not enough, a new political agenda that favours NMT is required,” she insists. “We only care about people with cars, but let us realize that the issue of NMT is a political agenda that needs to be changed. The good-old politician has to change too. And if I am able to convince other politicians, that will be enough.”