Shortlisting candidates for Rahul, the grassroots man

Shankersinh Vaghela loves to tell the story of how he found Madhusudan Mistry. It was the mid-nineties, when Vaghela, now leader of the opposition in Gujarat, was the BJP MP from Godhra. He recalls how his car had to wait nearly an hour for a rally to pass.

"They were tribals, walking in a very disciplined manner under the banner of Eklavya. Unlike in political rallies, there was no sloganeering," Vaghela says. Curious to know who this leader was who had collected such an orderly crowd, Vaghela asked the policemen on duty, who told him it was Madhusudan Mistry.

Vaghela will also tell you how he got Mistry to contribute to the BJP's manifesto for tribals back then. And in 1996, when Vaghela became chief minister as leader of the Rashtriya Janata Party, which he had launched against the BJP, he picked Mistry to become the party's president.

The quinetessential grassroots man is Rahul Gandhi's choice to identify panels of probable Congress candidates to all Lok Sabha seats. Born in Kundanlal chawl in Asarwa village of Ahmedabad district in 1945, Mistry had an Oxford education and founded two major NGOs in Ahmedabad — Disha for tribals and Patheya, which specialises in budget analysis.

Before that, Mistry was teaching in a college in Ahmedabad whose principal, Professor Ramesh Bhatt, the late husband of women's activist Ela Bhatt, introduced him to the Majoor Mahajan Sangh, a trade union founded by Gandhi. In 1970, Mistry quit teaching for the trade union.

Mistry's political life had, however, already begun in 1969, when he campaigned as a trade unionist for late MP Brahmkumar Bhatt, who was then in the Praja Socialist Party (which eventually merged with the Congress). Mistry's wife Meenaben accompanied him on these campaigns and he remained with the Majoor Mahajan Sangh till 1977, when he went to Oxford on a scholarship for a developmental studies course at Ruskin College.

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