She is known as the Golden Girl of Kannada cinema. She won the Filmfare Best Actress Awards twice—Thananam Thananam (2006) and Sanju Weds Geetha (2011). She has also starred in several roles in Tamil and Telugu films. Meet Divya Spandana, better known by her stage name, Ramya. But wait, this is not about her acting prowess and achievements. Today, people and politics are her priority; words and actions, her currency. At 31, Divya dons a new avatar—that of India’s youngest MP.
Divya’s first date with politics goes back to 2011, when she joined the Youth Congress. Movies kept her busy, and she did not take to active politics until 2013. “I was talking to manufacturers for my designer clothing line in Delhi, when Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and KPCC president G Parameshwara called me and said I was to contest from Mandya. It was a mad rush to to file my nomination in time, as all flights from Delhi to Bangalore were full. I took a connecting night flight to Mumbai and barely made it to the Deputy Commissioner’s office in time,” she recalls.
Divya’s father, R T Narayan was a well-known figure in the upper echelons of the political circle and her raison d’etre for foraying into politics. His death, shortly after she filed her nomination, was a big blow. But she remained unfazed. “I hadn’t come to terms with my father’s death, but I had committed to the party.” In August 2013, she won the seat defeating her nearest JD(S) candidate C S Puttaraju by 47,000 votes. Fortune, indeed, favours the fearless. On her first day in Parliament, sitting amidst veterans, Divya was a sea of emotions. Her strategy was simple: observe, listen and absorb. “I would never miss a session. It was my learning ground,” she asserts.
Being There, Doing That
Being at the helm of affairs, Divya has already made strides to improve the situation in her constituency, especially for women: 10 toilets are being built in the Government Girls PU College and its affiliated school; she has donated two sewing machines to women in self-help groups in Srirangapatna. “Women”, she emphasises, “are born to be leaders”. What kind of a leader is she? She believes in leading by example— her office typist Shruthi, is a differently abled 20-year-old girl; Divya also funded the operation of Sushmitha, a polio-affected girl, at Sparsh hospital in Bangalore. “I do not believe in having stooges. This is a professional job and I do it dutifully,” reveals Divya who has sizzled in several south Indian films.
At a time when we wonder if all that intellectual and political work of crafting frameworks to understand women’s subjugation and loss of liberty has remained imprisoned within the covers of books in women’s studies; Divya reaffirms her faith in the judiciary and in the rise of women’s movements. “They have made a difference. Times are changing, criminals are being punished and stricter laws are being passed.” Her undying belief in the democratic process is evident from the way she approaches issues in her constituency: drainage, bad roads, sugarcane prices, no ambulances, no burial grounds, lack of street lights, locals without identity cards and pensions...
Her solutions to these are no rocket science formulae—grit, perseverance and a willingness to be the change serve her well. Divya ensures that the funds are pumped into the right resources and reach appropriate departments, and keeps an eagle eye “to get the work done”.
Never Too Young
Age may just be a matter of digits but being the youngest MP has its own perils. “They want to bring you down. Everyone is waiting for your to make a mistake and create controversies. At the airport, I get looked at from top to bottom because the security refuses to believe I’m an MP,” she laughs. In her initial days, it was an arduous effort to conduct vigil meetings as, “no one would take me seriously”. But that didn’t deter her assertiveness or determination to prove her mettle.
Hope continues to be her most cherished shield.
A typical day in Divya’s life begins at 6 am. Her constituency comprises eight talukas and she spends an hour and a half at each, meets the locals and accepts request letters. “I try to solve as many issues as possible with the help of the tahsildar. The problems that cannot be sorted on the spot are sent to the concerned departments. I personally meet the respective ministers and hand over letters from the locals. I don’t take lunch breaks. My day ends at 11 pm, once I’ve checked my emails and responded to tweets,” she reveals. Does she miss being an actress? “My constituency is my priority now, and I am committed to it,” she reiterates.
Experience has taught her much: make the best of what you have, find meaning in helping people, keep your intentions clean, don’t succumb to pressure, follow your heart and retain your individuality.