New Delhi: Akash Satyawali, a 27-year-old law graduate, signed on because he didn’t want to be an armchair critic. Kanksshi Agarwal, a 25-year-old electrical engineer, wanted to understand the politics of policy-making. Saumya Varma, an educator and former civil services aspirant, just wanted to do something in the field of governance and policy.
The 19-member Congress team that drafted the party manifesto, released earlier this week, was supported by a group of more than 25 people who all had different callings and motives, but somehow found their paths converge on this mission.
While many of them are political regulars, most are driven youngsters looking to make a difference in a political landscape that many believe is deeply polarised.
A eight-month-long exercise
The Congress manifesto exercise — involving consultations, drafting and finalisation — was an eight-month-long exercise that lasted from August 2018 to April under a committee headed by former Union minister P. Chidambaram.
It involved a request for suggestions from the public, which answered the call with 31,875 inputs on a dedicated interactive website and 4,038 via WhatsApp, among other portals.
The convenor of the manifesto panel, Congress MP Rajeev Gowda, told ThePrint that there were two groups of people who worked on the manifesto: Political office-bearers of the state research departments, and members of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) research department.
Talking of the latter, he added, “The researchers who supported the manifesto preparation are an interesting lot, most of them in their 20s.”
Members of the two groups, he added, were attached to the leaders heading the sub-committees on different subject matters.
For example, Amol Deshmukh (41), the national coordinator of AICC research who studied health services management at London School of Economics (LSE) and London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), used this background to assist the Congress committee on health issues.
Similarly, Siju (35), a Kerala native pursuing a PhD as well as a diploma in journalism, chairs the Kerala research department and assisted Chidambaram and former Union minister Jairam Ramesh on manifesto consultations.
“The political people helped organise the consultations. They got in touch with the Congress units of different states. The researchers focused on note-taking and preparing background notes, compiling the suggestions received during consultations, and then making a final summary of the topics that emerged from the consultations,” he added.
“They are a highly motivated lot and that’s why it was such a thorough process as we had to do fact-checking and work round-the-clock to meet tight deadlines,” Gowda said.
According to a Congress functionary, this is the first time that such an extensive consultation had taken place for the manifesto.
“In 2014, Rahul Gandhi had started something similar, when he held two consultations, one of them with the youth,” the functionary said.
“But nothing on this scale. He told the committee clearly that he wanted the manifesto to reflect the voices of the people, which is why a process that started in August culminated in April,” the functionary added.
Meet the young guns
The research team at the heart of the manifesto exercise all have one thing in common: To be involved in the dust and grime of nation-building.
“I didn’t want to be just an armchair critic,” Akash Satyawali, a graduate of Delhi University’s Law Faculty, told ThePrint.
“After 2014, I thought it was a moral obligation to work for an ideology that was synchronous with constitutional values. In 2016, I graduated from the Faculty of Law and got an offer to work with I-PAC (Indian Political Action Committee, a political advocacy group),” he said.
“I left I-PAC in 2017 and met professor Gowda. He offered me a role and I was glad to take it,” he added.
During his stint with I-PAC, Satyawali worked for the Uttarakhand and UP elections. Now, he will work in the field of litigation.
Kanksshi Agarwal, a 25-year-old electrical engineer from the state university of Madhya Pradesh, has a Master’s degree in urban policy and governance from Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
Talking to ThePrint, Agarwal said she had always been involved in campaigns that seek to make a difference.
“I co-founded the chapter of an international youth leadership organisation, AIESEC,” she added.
“I was a youth advocate of United Nations Women’s HeforShe campaign, and always took interest in policy and politics. After TISS, I came to work with an MP through LAMP [Legislative Assistant to a Member of Parliament] fellowship, and, fortunately, with the Congress, which resonates with my ideology of inclusivity,” Agarwal said.
“I wanted to understand the politics of policy-making, and becoming a researcher for the party’s manifesto gave me exactly that platform,” she told ThePrint.
Agarwal now hopes to continue working in the political space as well as the development sector.
For Saumya Varma, a graduate of St. Stephen’s, Delhi University, who holds a Master’s in modern history from Jawaharlal Nehru University, the political awakening came as she pored over preparation material for the civil services exam.
“I was teaching undergraduate students [at Ashoka University, Sonepat] prior to this and also preparing for the civil services exam,” she told ThePrint. “While I didn’t clear the exam, the process of studying opened my eyes to the issues of governance and policy, and I knew I wanted to be a part of that,” she added.
“I didn’t intend to be a political researcher, but seeing the valuable work being done by Professor Gowda, I was drawn to it,” Varma said.
Her next course of action is to gain specialisation in environmental politics and policy, she told ThePrint.
Here are some of the members of the team of researchers who powered the manifesto preparation exercise. The others were either unavailable or didn’t wish to be identified.
Rajeev Gowda, 55
Designation: Rajya Sabha MP and chairman of the AICC research department
Education: PhD (public policy and management) from Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, US, MA (economics) from Fordham University, US
Role in committee: Convenor.
Ranajit Mukherjee, 39
Designation: Secretary of AICC research department, he is contesting as a Congress candidate from West Bengal’s Bardhaman-Durgapur constituency
Education: Master’s in media and communication, Symbiosis, Pune
Role in committee: He assisted Congress leader Mukul Sangma and worked on regional issues, Centre-state relationships and migration.
Harshvardhan Shyam, 38
Designation: Joint secretary, research, AICC, and former national general secretary, Youth Congress
Education: MPhil and PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi
Role in committee: Worked with Sachin Rao, an adviser to Rahul Gandhi’s team, on issues related to the minorities, religious freedom, and personal law.
Amol Deshmukh, 41
Designation: National coordinator, AICC research department
Education: MBBS, Msc (Health services management, LSE and LSHTM, London)
Role in committee: Assisted with matters pertaining to health issues and those concerning SC/ST communities.
M. Leni Jadhav, 33
Designation: National coordinator, AICC research department, and former national general secretary of the Congress’ student wing, the National Students Union of India
Education: LLB from Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University, Aurangabad, Maharashtra
Role in committee: Assisted senior Congress leader Meenkashi Natrajan on issues of local self-government/panchayati raj.
Lalit Mehra, 62
Designation: Chairman of the party’s Rajasthan research committee
Education: BSc, MA (public administration), MA (economics), three diplomas, including in management, MBA (finance), MBA (green business), and PhD (commerce), LLB
Role in committee: Worked with senior Congress leader and former external affairs minister Salman Khurshid on institutional and civil service reforms, government employees, justice delivery, transparency and accountability.
Dalbir Bharti, 58
Designation: Chairman of the Congress’ Haryana research department
Education: MA, LLB, PhD
Role in committee: This former IPS officer worked with senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid on the issue of internal security.
Pooja Bhari, 44
Designation: Chairman of the Delhi research department
Education: Graduate in English literature from Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University
Role in committee: Assisted Congress MP Shashi Tharoor on art, culture, heritage, liberty and freedom.
Education: MBA, PG diploma
Role in committee: Assisted former Union ministers P. Chidambaram and Jairam Ramesh on manifesto consultations.
Aamer Jaaved, 32
Designation: Chairman of the party’s Telangana research department
Education: Bachelor’s in electronics and communications engineering, Master’s in wireless and telecommunications, MBA in marketing and HR, LLB
Role in committee: Jaaved assisted Congress MP Sushmita Dev on the issue of women children, and gender justice.
Dr Vijay Chandra, 39
Designation: State secretary of Congress’ Andhra Pradesh research department
Education: PhD in environmental science
Role in committee: Worked on the issue of education with former Rajya Sabha member Bhalchandra Mungekar and Shashi Tharoor.
Kuldeep Aukta, 46
Designation: State secretary of Himachal Pradesh research department
Education: BA, LLB
Role in committee: Assisted Congress leaders Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Manpreet Badal, Rajni Patil and Lalitesh Tripathi on agriculture and farm labour.
Ragghu Dodderi, 42
Designation: State coordinator for Karnataka research department
Education: MS from BITS Pilani
Role in committee: Assisted with manifesto consultations.
Amit Sihag, 37
Designation: State secretary for Haryana research department, AICC research department, and former Youth Congress chief of Haryana
Role in committee: Assisted Rajya Sabha member Gowda on agriculture and rural issues.
Prem Bahukhandi, 46
Role in committee: Worked on shaping the Hindi manifesto.
Saumya Varma, 27
Designation: Deputy head of research, office of MP Rajeev Gowda
Education: Master’s in Modern History from JNU
Role in committee: Worked with Shashi Tharoor and Salman Khurshid on issues of environment, internal security and institutional reforms.
Kanksshi Agarwal, 25
Designation: Research associate, office of MP Rajeev Gowda
Education: Master’s in urban policy and governance, TISS-Mumbai
Role in committee: Worked with senior Congress leader Anand Sharma and Rajeev Gowda on jobs and employment, industries, and foreign policy.
Akash Satyawali, 27
Designation: Outreach coordinator, office of MP Rajeev Gowda
Education: Graduate, Law Faculty, DU
Role in committee: Assisted Congress leaders Manpreet Singh Badal, Laliteshpati Tripathi, and Mukul Sangma on agriculture and farm labour.
Manisha Shastri, 27
Education: Master’s in social work, TISS
Role in committee: Worked on the issues of health, nutrition and those pertaining to SC/STs and OBCs with senior Congress leader K. Raju.
Tarana Rao, 24
Education: BA (economics), St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai
Role in committee: Worked with Chidambaram and Gowda on economic policy and GST.
Siddharth Jain, 25
Education: BA LLB from Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur
Role in committee: Worked on the issue of panchayati raj and minorities with senior Congress leaders Meenakshi Natrajan and Salman Khurshid.
Gaurav Kapoor, 41
Designation: State secretary, UP research department
Education: BSc (business management), University of London
Role in committee: Assisted Manpreet Badal on the issue of ex-servicemen, freedom fighters and senior citizens.
Mani Chander, 29
Education: LLM, Panjab University
Role in committee: Assisted Congress MP Sushmita Dev and Congress leader Sachin Rao on urbanisation, women and gender justice, and unorganised sector.
Laetitia Warjri, 27
Education: BA LLB, Faculty of Law (DU)
Role in committee: Worked with Shashi Tharoor and Mukul Sangma on art and culture.
Shahana Munazir, 27
Education: BA (history), MA (South Asia), MPhil (social anthropology)
Role in committee: Worked on education and minorities with Dr Balchandra Mungekar and Sachin Rao.
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