BY: SNEHA THAKUR & ANANDYA THAKURIA
At a function at Mathura’s Bhagat Singh Park, villagers and school students gathered in hundreds dance to songs by former Indian Idol contestants and local stars. A handful of college students sit looking bored or sleepy. Few pay attention to what’s happening on the stage till, that is, a woman is called up to say a few words.
Suddenly alert, the students take out their mobile phones and jostle to photograph the woman. As she speaks for the next 3 minutes, all eyes are on the 28-year-old.
Her message is simple — “come out and vote, exercise your right” — but 126 km and nine months away from the Greater Noida controversy, Durga Shakti Nagpal’s name still carries enough punch.
The IAS officer has been chosen to lead a voter awareness campaign in Mathura. As SDM of Noida last year, Nagpal had been tough against the illegal sand mafia operating in the area. She was suspended and chargesheeted by the Uttar Pradesh government for purportedly demolishing a wall at a mosque ignoring local sentiments, but had to be reinstated following public outcry and protests.
She is the Chief Development Officer in Mathura and the nodal officer of SVEEP (Systematic Voters Education and Electoral Participation).
Nagpal has chalked out a month-long programme to create awareness among people till the day before Mathura goes to vote on April 24. She has been visiting nearby slums with her team and has initiated a ‘Go for Vote’ campaign on Facebook, managed by a few student volunteers.
She “very strongly believes in the system”, Nagpal says. “This is why I have been personally monitoring the work here in Mathura. Our team has been visiting slums, colleges for creating awareness. It is through voting that one gets to elect their leaders.”
At the park function on March 28, Nagpal is a celebrity. Local singer Vandana Singh calls her “an inspiration”. “Stories of your honesty are legendary, they have always inspired me,” the singer says to her on the stage. Leaving the gathering, students show off pictures of Nagpal on their phones.
A young police constable posted there to manage the crowds, however, is cynical. “Our country does not allow officers like Nagpal to survive,” he says. “Look what they did to her. These people will come out to vote in large numbers and elect the same people who did not let Nagpal work.”