While TV channels often portray panchayat candidates as illiterates who can’t even name the CM or PM, it would indeed be startling for anyone to know that engineers, management graduates, Ph.D. scholars and even professors are part of the huge contingent of candidates in this colourful village election.

The world’s biggest electoral exercise is in full swing in UP. The three-tier panchayat election involves about 11 crore voters electing as many as 8,84,410 representatives, which include members of gram panchayats, kshetra panchayats and zila panchayats, and gram pradhans.The grassroots election, seen as one which elects the “gaon ki sarkar” (government of villages), may be at the very grassroots level of democracy. But, it would be rather imprudent to dismiss the huge exercise as a contest involving patently Luddite elements.While TV channels often portray panchayat candidates as illiterates who can’t even name the CM or PM, it would indeed be startling for anyone to know that engineers, management graduates, Ph.D. scholars and even professors are part of the huge contingent of candidates in this colourful village election.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>“It is very important for educated people to contest these elections as they can fight for the rights of the rural populace much more effectively,” says Manoj Pal, an IIT engineer and gram pradhan (village chief) candidate.The panchayat election arena is liberally populated with women who are contesting as proxy candidates in place of their husbands due to a particular panchayat being reserved for women this time (on a rotational basis). Most of these women keep their faces covered in keeping with rural custom and hardly ever move out of their houses for canvassing which is done by their husbands.In such a scenario, Rangati Verma comes as a welcome change. “It’s high time things changed at the grassroots level,” says the girl pursuing her Ph.D. after doing her M.Sc from Delhi. “It’s our responsibility to usher in this change,” says Rangati, in the fray for gram pradhan’s post in Paharpur village of Ferozabad district in west UP.Whether it is Animesh, a management graduate contesting in Mudha Pande (Moradabad), Dilip, an architect-engineer in Sorahiya (Bahraich), or Sana Siddiqui, a LLB and MBA, in Sarojini Nagar (Lucknow), they have given up plum jobs or job offers in big cities to return to their roots to do their bit for the villages they were born and brought up in.Dr Pradeep Kumar, associate professor at the Indraprastha Institute of Technology, Amroha (west UP), and a ‘gram pradhan’ candidate in Asmoli village of Sambhal, amplifies the sentiment as he says: “The ‘gaon ki sarkar’ (village government) needs to be strengthened if we want the growth of a strong democracy and strong governments in the states and at the Centre.”

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MBAs, engineers and scholars contest in UP’s panchayat polls