When Sri Sri Ravi Shankar launched Volunteer for a Better India, many people asked, “So what is it for? It’s a good idea broadly, sure, but what is it specifically about?” This question dwelt in their minds, and there were some very sincere attempts at finding out answers through discussions. But everybody had their own ideas and thoughts. While all this was going on, somebody put a bunch of people together and revived a dry river! That made it clear that there are those who discuss what VBI is over the dinner table and then, there are those who decide what it is.
A few months ago, Sri Sri started saying in public discourses that there were 12 crore voters who had not been registered for voting and that something had to be done about it. This thought got stuck into Dr. Vinod Kumar, a young teacher at the ashram. While he was mulling over this, one day, Sri Sri took him by the hands, looked into his eyes and told him, “You are here for a big reason. Live your life for the country. Go and shake colleges. Do something big.” Vinod left the ashram to fulfill his Master’s word.
He began from Kurnool district in Andhra Pradesh and started going and meeting colleges, sharing this information with them. Everybody agreed that something had to be done. He then developed a 1 day training program for the students. The students from the first few programs launched such an intense voter registration drive that it caught the Collector’s attention, who invited Vinod to his office. Vinod was a little late in arriving due to a session he was teaching but was surprised to find the Collector waiting for him with the media. The Collector showered praise on the young teacher and asked him to share what he was doing.
Vinod explained with directness and simplicity, “We all want to make India better. Someone wants to clean a slum, someone else wants to plant trees and so on. But we do it when it suits us, at different times. If we do it together, we’ll make a bigger difference. VBI is just a platform for that. It is whatever YOU want it to be. I’m on a mission to register the maximum number of new voters.” Asked what challenges he had been facing, he shared, “I waste a half a day everyday waiting outside the Principals’ office in every college”. The Collector immediately offered to call all the principals at one place in a few days.
Meanwhile, Vinod took out all the data he needed from the Collector’s office – the number of unregistered voters in all the constituencies, the contacts of tahsildars and the colleges in those constituencies. There were 400+ colleges and 6 days to cover them until registration closed. Out of all these colleges, 44 principals showed up. The Collector introduced Vinod who plainly asked the principals, “The future of the country is in the hands of the youth and the youth are in your hands. Can you give them to me for a day? I will train them and turn them into inspired role models.” After this, his phone kept ringing.
He made a plan, marking out which college to have the training at each day. The host college had to invite colleges from neighboring constituencies as well as the tahsildars. The sessions were an eye opener for everybody, instilling pride about being Indian as well as a deep sense of responsibility towards our country. This went on for a week and created a massive wave in the whole region.
He taught the 6 hour programs in the day and then travelled hundreds of kilometers to the next place in the evening. A small detail that Vinod does not mention while telling this story is that during this time, while visiting a college he slipped on the stairs and fractured his upper back. The doctor had advised bed rest! A month later, he received a letter from the Collector’s office that the 3000+ students that he trained had gone on to register 37000+ new voters aged 18-19 years.
This story may answer some questions that you had in mind and might also give rise to some new ones. If one of those questions is, “Vinod, when can you come here?”, his number is 8123979426 and email is firstname.lastname@example.org.