Balasaheb S. Darade outside NASA
(Maharashtra): He lived in the US for over a decade.
But the nanotechnology scientist left his cutting edge work when
conscience beckoned him to help change and improve things in his
deprived Parda village in the Vidarbha region.
Treading the heat and grime of grassroots politics is 28-year-old
Balasaheb S. Darade, who is contesting as an independent candidate
from the Pangradole constituency in the Buldhana district council
polls scheduled for Feb 7.
"I am focussing on three key aspects - rural development, youth
empowerment and changing the attitude of people - if they want to
see change, they must change themselves," Darade, who came back to
India last year, told IANS in an interview.
Born in Parda village, 450 km southeast of Mumbai, which has now
grown into a small town with around 25,000 people, Darade was
educated here and in other parts of the state before joining the
University of Cincinnati, US, from where he completed his masters
"I had always been keen on research, especially nano in solar
cells. My work got me a consultancy assignment with US space
agency NASA and I worked on the Mars Rover Project on nano solar
cells," he said.
Darade always longed to return to his town and do something for
people's upliftment - almost like Shah Rukh Khan in the movie "Swades".
During his stay in the US till August 2011, Darade keenly watched
and drummed up support for social activist Anna Hazare's
anti-corruption crusade. He also came in contact with spiritual
guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in the US and met former president A.P.J.
Abdul Kalam on several occasions.
He even formulated plans for a revamp of villages partly by
incorporating Hazare's Ralegan-Siddhi model village principles.
"I launched the Shankar Rural Transformation Project (SRTP) in 20
villages in the Vidarbha region, plagued by farmland suicides,
huge unemployment and consequent problems, and depression among
the people who feel they have no future," he said.
"These personalities appreciated my efforts, inspired and
encouraged me to enter politics which is abhorred and shunned by
the educated class in India," Darade told IANS while on the
The SRTP project - dedicated to the memory of his late parents
Shankar and Ratnamala, who perished in a fire accident three years
ago and his mentor, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar - has taken off with
volunteers in each of the target villages.
Darade has taken up SRTP in three parts - sustainable village
development projects for solving a village's need-based problems,
individual empowerment, and finally collaboration with government
and other agencies.
Initially hoping to contest the state legislature elections in
2014, it was barely two weeks ago that Darade decided to take the
plunge into the local body polls - which he said would enable him
to study and understand deeply the problems afflicting the rural,
agro-based state economy and people's plight.
Darade has been allotted a 'cup and saucer' election symbol, but
says he is not bothered about 'token symbolism'. Instead, he wants
to involve the masses in a big way and put them on the path to
progress and prosperity.
His public meetings, with audiences ranging from groups of 20 to
8,000 (the biggest till date attended by curious farmers who
decided to hear yet another speaker), have short issue-based
speeches and are spiced with meditation and chanting of popular
"I prefer quality in my meetings. Quantity or big crowds do not
really get the message across," he explained.
Though reluctant to name his main challengers, he said the biggest
rivals would be the Shiv Sena with its powerful local MP Prataprao
Jadhav and legislator Sanjay Raimulkar, and the
Congress-Nationalist Congress Party combine.
Depending solely on public donations, volunteers' contributions,
including sympathizers from India Against Corruption (IAC), and
his own meagre resources, Darade moves around in a hired vehicle,
armed with his cap that says "Now Change is Certain", which he
distributes to people he meets daily.
He claims that though written off initially, he has now been
flooded with messages, letters and e-mails of support. The village
youth participation in his campaign has grown manifold.
"I have realised that elections, however small, are a tough job.
But in a democracy, elections are a must and it is imperative to
elect good representatives at all levels - I have taken the first
step towards this change."
After this experience, Darade hopes to contest the Maharashtra
assembly elections due 2014.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at email@example.com)