Poovaiah Mandanna and Charles Arvind are typical Bangalore residents. Mandanna,23,and Arvind,25,work for the offshore unit of computer maker Dell Inc,where they spend their day-night shifts selling laptops and hardware to Australians and New Zealanders and managing these orders. They spend their spare time hanging out with friends,partying and networking on Facebook.
But this Friday,Mandanna and Arvind did something far from typical. They took time off from work and showed up at the Congresss city headquarters to enroll for the partys Talent Search.
Instead of hanging out all day at the office café,smoking cigarettes,drinking tea and complaining about all the things going wrong in India and Bangalore,I wanted to explore the possibility of actually doing something, said Mandanna,the son of a retired police officer.
Bangalore has a significant population of educated,young workers in the outsourcing industrysome three-quarters of a million,according to estimates. But no political party has so far ventured to recruit this gigantic group or harness its potential for social work or public service.
With general elections round the corner,Talent Search is the idea of Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi,to seek out and infuse new talent into the Youth Congress. While the idea was mint-new,its execution was chaotic in parts. The talent that showed up consisted mainly of party workers hoping for a break into the big league and a sprinkling of professionals like Mandanna.
Seated in a corner of the basement,watching the slogan-shouters swarm outside the interview room,Mandanna and Arvind had their first,fleeting brush with the hurly-burly of party politics. Dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans,Mandanna stood out in a roomful of people in the standard politician white.
In a country of one billion,where half the population is 25 years or younger,politics should have young,clean leaders,said Mandanna. We need a younger version of Barack Obama to lead us to change, he said. Many of his friends had no faith in politics. They were fast losing hope in the political systems ability to fix everyday problems such as Bangalores infrastructure.
When Mandannas colleague Arvind asked his manager for time off to attend the Talent Search,the mission details were promptly broadcast to the entire team. Soon,all 53 workers on the floor were on their feet,applauding. But I could sense many of them were mocking me, said the bespectacled,curly-haired Arvind.
They are all in their own comfort zones, working hard and happy to take home a pay cheque at the end of every month, he added,fingering the official identity card jangling from his waist.
Facing the interview panel,Aruna Munirathnam,27,a team leader at the back office unit of technology multinational Hewlett-Packard,announced,I saw an announcement in the newspaper and felt this was a fair,clean and clear way to enter politics and change things. The panel seemed pleased.
Munirathnam,who does not have even a nodding acquaintance with politics,said she was heartened that there was a formal interview and that she would be judged on her leadership skills. I have no party affiliation yet, she told the panel,If the BJP had organised this,I would still be here.
At work,Munirathnam has totted up six years of experience and now leads a team of 15 people who manage HPs internal databases. When she told her colleagues where she was going in the middle of the work day,they were incredulous. Do you have loads of money? some asked. Do you have a godfather?,Can you let go of your values? others queried. Some friends were scared for her because she is soft-spoken. But Munirathnam said she was undeterred. If that is how the system works,I want to break it.
One of the panelists,US-returned Karnataka legislator Krishna Byregowda,said he hoped the talent search would help cure the scepticism of young Indians towards politics. We want to channel their energies and make them into political activists, he said.
As Mandanna worried about how to reveal the details of his latest adventure to his parents,the recently-wed Munirathnam chewed her nails on how to balance work,home and her new-found interest in politics. Only Arvind had a plan. In the slum in the KR Puram neighbourhood where he lived,Arvind said,illiteracy and unemployment were rampant among the young. That is where he would start initiating a change.