Rakesh Shetty (43) is an educationist who has entered politics because he feels that unless educated people enter public life, there is no possibility of improving the situation. He is of the opinion that one should earn the right to criticise the government by actively participating in public life. He has been with the Congress for the past several years and plays an active role in the party organisation, apart from looking after the slew of schools owned by him. Excerpts from an interview by S Balakrishnan:
When were you appointed as working president of the Congress Seva Dal?
I was appointed in June 2023 by Shri Lalji Desai, chief organiser of the All India Congress Seva Dal. However, I have been associated with the Seva Dal for several years. In July 2015, I was appointed state organiser of the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Seva Dal by Chandrakant Dayama, then chief organiser of the group.
What is the Seva Dal’s role in the Congress?
Seva Dal is the backbone of the Congress Party. Seva Dal Worker is a trained cadre of the Congress who strongly believes in Gandhian philosophy. A Seva Dal volunteer has to undergo a three-day training to be a part of the district committee, five-and-a-half days’ training to be a part of the state committee and 10 days’ training to become a member of the national committee. The primary objective of Seva Dal is to train grass-root workers to spread the Gandhian philosophy among common people through organising different programmes at the block and booth levels.
The Seva Dal also conducts medical camps and relief camps in regions affected by national calamities. It ensures that there is a peace and harmony among masses and there is no discrimination among people on the basis of caste or religion.
In the past the Seva Dal used to play an important part in society, but not any more. Why this decline?
The Seva Dal was founded by the late Dr Narayan Subbarao Hardikar in 1923. It played a pivotal role during the flag march and the Civil Disobedience Movement waged against the British Empire. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was instrumental in the Seva Dal gaining significance. That time, Seva Dal was used to impart physical training to the volunteers of Indian National Congress Party as well as promote communal harmony.
However, after India attained freedom, gradually the importance of the Seva Dal started diminishing, and it was reduced to just one of the frontal organisations of the Congress. But as soon as Rahul Gandhiji took charge, he started reforming Seva Dal and appointed Shri Lalji Desai, a farmer by profession and a true Gandhian, as chief organiser of All India Congress Seva Dal. Since then the Dal has undergone rapid transformation.
What plans do you have to revive the Seva Dal in Maharashtra?
During my recent tour of Maharashtra covering nearly 22 districts immediately after my appointment as the working preside, I was able to get a feel of the entire organisational structure. With my strong emphasis on the complete training of Seva Dal volunteers, I am hopeful of creating a strong cadre base of Seva Dal in Maharashtra and ensure its revival.
Is the youth attracted to the Seva Dal?
After the appointment of Shri Lalji Desai as chief organiser, he introduced multiple departments in the existing organisational structure, i.e. a women’s wing, coordination and communication wing and young brigade’s wing to attract youth in large numbers. The visionary goals set by Shri Lalji Desai has resulted in larger numbers of youth enrolling in the Seva Dal.
Seva Dal office bearers are not considered when it comes to giving tickets for the elections. Please comment.
I totally disagree. Many current senior leaders were actively involved with the Seva Dal. Jawaharlal Nehru was the chief organiser of the All India Congress Seva Dal. Chief Minister of Rajasthan Ashok Gehlot was himself a Congress Seva Dal volunteer in the past. Former chief minister of Uttarakhand Harish Rawatji was the chief organiser of Uttarakhand Congress Seva Dal. The late Rajiv Gandhi himself was a member of the Seva Dal.