The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia scans campus for bright women

New Delhi, Sept. 4: Congress president Sonia Gandhi is trying to bring about a change by drafting youngsters from the party’s students’ wing and encouraging women with good academic records.

Consequently, the profile of the National Student Union of India (NSUI) is also changing. More and more girls in universities — ranging from Delhi, Rajasthan, Assam to Tamil Nadu — are contesting university and college elections on NSUI tickets and winning them. The union’s nominees recently won elections in five out of six universities in Rajasthan. In Delhi, for the second time, Sonia has fielded a woman for the Delhi University Student’s Union presidential polls. Last year’s winner Neetu Verma was suitably rewarded when Sonia got her a ticket in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) amid loud protests. Neetu went on to win it by a handsome margin from Delhi’s upmarket Civil Lines area.

This time around, the NSUI has fielded Ragini Nayak who looks more like an aspiring model than a budding Congress politician. In sharp contrast to the stereotype rough image of a student leader, Ragini in cream, peach and other pastel shades has already become a rage of sorts.

In some downmarket south Delhi colleges, she is faced with a peculiar problem. Her voters insist on shaking hands with her. “A namaste would not do,” they told a reluctant Ragini.

Sonia has started a practice of interviewing NSUI and Youth Congress recruits to get a feel of future leaders. The system is rather elaborate. A screening panel consisting of NSUI and AICC office-bearers shortlists candidates on grounds of their academic record, social work and commitment to secularism. A chosen few then go to meet Sonia, who has a final say in their selection.

According to AICC general secretary Mukul Wasnik, in-charge of Congress’ frontal organisations, Sonia’s attention to NSUI and the Youth Congress has started showing results. “More and more bright students have began approaching us. The NSUI won students union elections in Guwahati University. It is a welcome sign,” he said.

Congress leaders said NSUI was no longer a dumping ground for college dropouts. A few years ago, the NSUI was headed by Saleem Ahmad, who had never been to college. But after Sonia took over, a new trend has begun. First Alka Lamba, an attractive girl who had won DUSU presidentship, was appointed NSUI chief. When she demitted office, Sonia opted for Meenakshi Natrajan, who impressed everyone with her oratory skills. Natrajan organised several seminars and workshops ranging from saffronisation of education to problems of “brain drain”.

Wasnik said there was still the problem of a high rate of dropouts. About 80 per cent of girls who join NSUI quit politics and take up other professions. “But we have no problems with that. After all, leadership qualities help in all walks of life. We mean well to them,” he said.

Sonia’s managers said the AICC chief wanted to encourage more and more women in politics. On October 1, a national-level conference is being organised which is exclusively for women. The conference will bring women politicians face-to-face with NGOs, women entrepreneurs and others who have excelled in their respective fields.

“The idea is not to restrict the issue of women empowerment to seat quota in Parliament and Assemblies. Women must come forward and get their dues in all spheres,” said an AICC general secretary entrusted with the task of organising October 1 conference.

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