Thursday, April 3, 2014

Dalit boy dumps Obama, picks up AK-272

He was a dead poor, rural boy whose mother was a rag-picker. He defied fate (and logic) by marching into the Indian Institute of Technology and then on to USA and had been an active supporter of the Obama campaign. However, now his homeland has called and he has returned to assist Arvind Kejriwal to achieve their (common) dream of a corruption free (less?) India. A true patriot, India needs many more of such bright, young stars who may one day grow into an(other) Ambedkar.

Much better than a few other disadvantaged people who grew too big too fast (and became too greedy and had to pay for their sins).
It's not often that the son of a dalit agricultural labourer from Maharashtra's farm suicide belt, whose mother once worked as a rag-picker on the streets of Mumbai, makes it as an entrepreneur in America and provides healthcare consultancy to the governments of New York, Washington and New Jersey.

What are the odds that such a man will throw up a life in New Jersey after a decade in the US to return to his dusty village in rural Marathwada? That's a question Aam Aadmi Party's Jalna candidate, Deelip Mhaske, is best suited to answer.

Mhaske (35) is a Dalit candidate contesting the elections from an open seat in a Maratha stronghold, a rarity of sorts for Indian politics. While Mhaske is no stranger to elections, having actively supported the Obama campaign, the murky world of Maharashtra politics came as a bit of a shock to him. His political opponents have used both his caste and his US stint against him, calling him an outsider.

Some of his campaigns have been disrupted by rowdy elements shouting casteist slurs at him. He says other political parties have openly distributed alcohol in the district to buy votes.

Mhaske, though, is no stranger to challenges. When he made it to IIT Bombay for a degree in planning and development, he doubled up as a construction labourer, while his mother worked as a ragpicker to make ends meet. "I once landed up at a building where my classmate lived in order to carry out some construction work. That's when she discovered for the first time that I worked as a construction labourer," he says.

Post IIT, a research paper he wrote was selected for a conference at the University of Pennsylvania where he got a scholarship to do his PhD. Mhaske, who went on to set up his own outpatient clinic for mental health patients, also had a degree in health sciences from Harvard Business School. He has been a healthcare consultant with the governments of New York, New Jersey and Washington.

His early success may have something to do with the Central government scholarship he got at the age of 10, which gave him entry to Navodaya Vidyalaya, one amongst a chain of schools that provides quality education across India to talented children in rural areas.

Mhaske has been intricately linked with India's anti-corruption movements, both while at IIT as well as during his career in the US. "I have been an active member of Jayprakash Narayan's Lok Satta party in Hyderabad, and was involved in setting up a chapter of the party in Maharashtra," says Mhaske, adding that he had been a part of Anna Hazare's movement against corruption in 2003, as a student at IIT, well-before Hazare shot to fame on the national arena.

While in the US, Mhaske joined the Aam Aadmi Party the day it was launched and has worked on several campaigns, both online and offline, to garner support for the party. "I've always felt the need to enter politics in order to better the system. This is why I have supported good parties such as AAP and Lok Satta," says Mhaske.


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