It is absolutely true that ‘we don’t value what we have until it’s gone’. Unfortunately, we realize it much later, by the time we have lost it already! I had spent 14 years of my childhood in the Urjanagar colony, situated in Chandrapur district, which is built for the employees of Maharashtra State Electricity Board. A precisely planned city, massive spacious schools and playgrounds, lush green colony, famous tiger reserve Tadoba around us and most importantly 24*7 drinking water supply (I learned the technical meaning of this term only after joining a Masters course) made it seem no less than a paradise. The sudden death of my father resulted in family shifting back to my native place – Latur. The change in location was a turning point of my life but I realized it much later in 2014.
After shifting to Latur, I continued with my education in whammy surroundings. I joined a school in which some students didn’t have footwear or school bags, classes covered with tin roofs, and there were separate classrooms for girls and boys. Initially, I didn’t observe but later I realized that few of my classmates were skipping classes whenever they have to collect the water as it comes only 2 or 3 times a month. This experience has propelled my curious mind to think about water issues. Gradually I started valuing the standard of life that I had experienced at Urjanager. Unfortunately, that life had gone and I was living in one of the most drought-prone districts in India.
As per the untold order given by society, I completed engineering in Computer Science and Engineering in 2012 from Latur. I would like to mention here about my neighbour Kharolkar uncle. Without his support, it would have been extremely difficult for me to get an engineering education due to the poor financial situation. Through his contacts, I got a fee waiver at some private coaching classes and a 50% fee waiver throughout my engineering. Later in 2014, I realized that he was a dedicated swaysevak in RSS.
Like most of the students, I migrated (yes, migrated) to Pune, in the search of a job. I got the job in Tata Communication Ltd., Pune and my mother became the happiest person on the earth. But for me – days passed by, like a blink of an eye, each day turned out to be just another day with no destination, no control, no strength, and no freedom of spirit. But the thought to do something in order to improve the water situation was continuously igniting in the back of the mind.
I always believe that there is one thing which almighty gives to all of us equally, “the opportunity”. It was my fate that the opportunity came as a visit to RSS shakha in 2013 in Pune. In RSS shakha, I met many people, and all of them were working professionals, mainly in the IT sector, like me. But, the difference between us was that they were able to take some free time from their daily busy routine to meet their friends, connect with new people (like me), play games in the gardens, and to discuss what can be done collectively for the betterment of society. As I started participating in the discussion, I realized that this is the opportunity to make my mundane life meaningful.
Let me admit that I never thought to dedicate my life to work on water issues until 2014. I would like to mention here that the discussions that occurred in RSS Shakhas helped me in two ways, firstly, it made me more aware of the issues India were facing and secondly, I joined Sevavardhini NGO as a volunteer. The Sevavardhini was the second place (just to remind, RSS is the first) where I got the opportunity to work for the upliftment of the society. The question may arise to some of you why as a volunteer? Well, that’s because I was working at Tata Communication Ltd as an engineer. Somewhere I felt that in this rat-race of job and life management, I was missing being a real human!
While doing a job, I was not satisfied with my life and the worst part was that I didn’t know how to make life more meaningful. I decided to make progress in my life by doing an MBA in the telecom sector but the president of Sevavardhini Mr Pramod Kulkarni suggested that I should check the courses offered at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
Voilà! I found what I was looking for, the course “Water Policy and Governance (WPG)”. We don’t create the meaning of life, we discover it. I was on the path of discovering the meaning of my life.
As a youngster, the vision of life was limited to selling my talent and skills in the best possible way to get a high-income job and living settled life by doing 9 to 5 office work. Attending RSS shakhas and volunteering with Sevavardhini has not only changed my vision but also made it bigger. To fulfil my growing aspiration towards working on water issues, I decided to take a 2-year full-time course in Water Policy and Governance (WPG) from the most prestigious college for social sciences, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, to get equipped with the required professional skills to work on my vision.
The experience of Rambhau Mhalgi Prabhodhini (RMP) began before joining the Indian Institute of Democratic Leadership (IIDL) course. During my second year in TISS, out of the blue, I came to know about the National Convention on Good Governance organized by RMP and as opportunistic as it could ever get, I got a chance to present a paper on “Role of Public Participation in Good Governance”. At that time, I had never imagined that in future RMP would become a platform for me to work towards achieving my vision.
After completing the WPG course, I worked with the Art of Living and Bhartiya Jain Sanghathana on Integrated Natural Management Resource projects in rural areas of Latur and Osmanabad. The result of following my passion started showing results. The villages in which I worked won the State level prizes in the Water Cup competition organized by Paani Foundation. Liaising with local leaders, government officials, and political leaders was one of the main responsibilities as the success of projects was dependent on their level of participation. Gradually, I started gaining interest in analyzing the various aspects of the roles and responsibilities of Sarpanch, MLA, and MP in the implementation of the policies.
After working for nearly two years in rural areas, I wasn’t satisfied with the pace with which I was getting connected with people through my work. Associating with political leaders, I realized that to reach maximum people, working on policies with politicians and from the side of the government would be the best choice. I started thinking about getting politics as a tool to work on policies. However, I was under the impression that politics is polluted and not for the ones coming from a humble background. I carried this thought until 2019. Electoral politics is the only thing I knew at that time.
Elections of 2014 & 2019 ignited a fervour of political debate amongst youngsters to participate in the political debate. By involving in the discussion, I understood that politics has many dimensions other than electoral politics, through which I can work for the development of society. I decided to remove the taboo of politics. I started my search for a platform where I can grasp the meaning of politics and how I can use politics as a tool to work more effectively on policies. My search ended sooner than expected when I found RMP initiated IIDL institute for PGP in Politics, Leadership and Governance. Without a second thought, I joined the course.
Even though I had the experience of leaving my job once, Tata Communication Ltd to join TISS, this time it was different. At the age when youngsters only aim to have a settled life, I left the job all over again to join the IIDL. In the first lecture, we started introducing ourselves (you will become used to giving an introduction or I would say fed up, as every new teacher asks for an introduction). It was exciting to sit with 25 classmates from 11 different states. Though it took me a few days to remember each of their names, it makes me feel crazy while I try to reassure myself that I have found homes to stay in 11 States of India. The parliament-like sitting arrangement, air-conditioned classroom with the latest technology., making learning all the more interesting.
The classes started with the sessions on leadership, taking lessons from the Indic approach. Everyone likes to watch movies, right? I also do, but never thought that I would watch in class with classmates and teachers. We watched movies like Sardar Patel, Chak de India, Cast Away, series on Chanakya and discussed what leadership lessons we can get from the movie, we would write assignments on that. Through various games and activities, we learned the importance of team-building. Picnics and field visits made the bond between classmates stronger. Self-introspection activities, mainly, writing our own short and long term goals are something which I usually found difficult. I started looking at my life in a manner in which I never did before. It is as interesting as it sounds. The curtains between my destiny and where I stand today started to open. This is how I recognized that I have inherent skills in Project Management and team-leading which helped me during my job.
The sessions on political parties, pressure groups, ideologies, basic political concepts, etc. were like a totally new world for me. Each topic was delivered by subject matter experts. There was no room left for biases, that I admired the most! Frequent lectures by practitioners and field visits made it easy to connect the theories taught in the class with the ground realities. When I was working on the field in rural areas, one of the most important tasks for me was to unite the villagers to implement the project successfully through the villager’s participation. Sessions on nationalism developed a clear understanding of its importance as a tool to unite people for the development of the country.
We learned proceedings of the parliament and the United Nation through Model Parliament and Model United Nations. It was fun driven learning in which each one of us actually got into the assigned role. Preparing the budget, exerting influence to get pass our resolution, if roommates are from the other side then whole night lobbying with them and many such real-life activities we had done in both model sessions.
I knew that after adopting the liberalization, globalization and privatization model, India gets more connected to the world. But the reason behind International agencies, like, the World Bank funding the pilot projects in the villages of Latur district was something I couldn’t understand. Sessions on International affairs helped me to find the lag between my limited understanding of international affairs and how it can impact the person living in the village. Though it will be a larger complex process to study International affairs and its influence on our policy designing process, the knowledge which I grasped in the class will definitely help me to keep myself one step ahead of others.
The greatest challenge I faced during my 2 years of experience in rural areas was to understand the role of a politician as a legislature, government officials as executors, relations between them, their motivation, work ethics, etc.. As a social worker, who wants to become a policymaker himself someday, I am obliged to understand the role of the legislatures and executives as they are the most important stakeholders. The Delhi tour was most memorable for this reason. During 7 days of the Delhi study tour, sessions were held with the people working in the policy sector, the cabinet-level ministers, karyakartas working in Sangathan, and young politicians. The conversations with the acclaimed politician and policymakers helped me to understand the role of legislature and executors directly from them.
As per psychology, a person having a doubt or issue needs a careful listener and guide. As the course is very dynamic and new, we all had some or other doubts every now and then. Through frequent feedback sessions, teachers addressed each doubt and issue, even though it is concerned with the single student. Not just feedback, at the end of the course we went through personal counselling sessions to understand our plan and to make it better.
Let me write 2 words about food, it’s delicious! For all 7 days of the week, different dishes from breakfast to dinner. Wake up with birds chirping, jog around a lush green campus, and when you feel exhausted, take a dive into the swimming pool. Located on the outskirts of Mumbai this beautiful campus has all the things to keep you happily busy through classes, nature, food, gym, etc.
I had one complaint about the system here. The student has to sign each time while going outside (and coming inside). But back of the mind, I knew, if something wrong happened to me when I’m outside, my institute would look after me. I just need to let them know that I’m going outside, take care of me! That’s how close I feel connected and became a member of the big RMP family.
If you are on the path towards a destiny, the journey will be exciting. Making a favourable impact in people’s lives is what excites me. When I see myself with the RMP, I feel assured of reaching my destiny.
-Amit Deshmukh, IIDL Batch of 2019-20, email@example.com