With a Blackberry in her hand and a laptop slung on her shoulder,its another day at work for Mahua Mitra. Only its in the villages of West Bengal. The former JP Morgan Vice President left her job in London last year to soldier on in the Left-dominated villages of West Bengal as Rahul Gandhis aam aadmi ki sipahi. The scheme was initiated by Rahul Gandhi to popularise projects launched by the UPA Government such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) among the people,and,like the Congresss talent search,is an effort to seek out and infuse new talent into the Youth Congress.
Do all of you have job cards? Did you get 100 days of work from the panchayat? Do you know what RTI is? Do you know Rahul Gandhi,son of late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi? I am here on his initiative to make you all aware of your rights and also to learn about your problems, says Mitra,talking to villagers at Daspara in Ruipur village panchayat in Nadia district.
The Congress may not have much of a presence in Bengal but Mitra says that doesnt bother her. Sometimes I get Congress workers in villages,but mostly I dont. But that does not matter. I am not here for election campaigning. I am here to tell villagers about the various schemes for them. In many areas,villages get only 5 to 10 days work in a day, she says,before going on to address another gathering,this time in Amghatti Musolmanpara. When she finishes speaking,the villagers have many questions and complaints for her.
Mitra has answers for their questions but is reluctant to talk about her past. Please do not ask me about my background because it does not matter. So what if I studied abroad or worked in London. I am here serving my people. Why dont you join us? I had a professional life abroad but I always wanted to do this. So I approached the Congress and now I am happy to be a part of this programme, she said.
Mitra studied in Kolkata and later studied economics and mathematics in the USat Mount Holyoke College,South Hadley,Massachusetts. She went on to become a vice president at JP Morgan in London and joined the Congress last year.
Last year I got a call from some leaders in Delhi saying that Mahua was interested in working in rural areas. Her resume was impressive and the party needed educated young people like her and she was inducted as a volunteer under the Aam Aadmi Ka Sipahi (AAKS) scheme, said Amitava Chakraborty,state youth Congress president
Since then Mitra has been travelling extensively in the state,educating villagers on various schemes and training other AAKS members in each panchayat.
I start my day early. During the day I meet mostly women,since the men are in the fields. In the evening,I meet the men. After telling them what their rights are and what are the government schemes they can avail of,I choose some volunteers for follow-ups. I also gather facts on how the schemes are being implemented and then send those reports to the Congress high command, said Mitra,who is in her thirties .
At present,eight Bengal districts are included under the(AAKS) project: Cooch Behar,Nadia,North Dinajpur,Darjeeling,Malda,North 24 Parganas,Murshidabad and West Midnapur. These are areas that were once Congress strongholds and Mitra is touring them along with other youth Congress workers. For instance,they visited Lalgarh in West Midnapore,from where she filed a report on tribal unrest and how the state government had neglected the area. A copy of the report was sent to Rahul Gandhi and the apparently its impact has been such that a high-powered central team is scheduled to visit the tribal areas of the three districts of West Midnapur,Bankura and Purulia next week. In January,Mitra conducted a workshop on NREGA in Phansideoa block in Darjeeling after which thousands of fresh applications for NREGA work were submitted to the local panchayat office.
The Congress may be happy with Mitras success but the Left is dismissive of her efforts. I am not aware that such an initiative is being taken by Congress here. I do not know why she (Mitra) is going to villages. It might just be political gimmick, said Ashu Ghosh,a district CPI-M leader.