Youth Congress president Srinivas explains how his team is helping people in distress

Delhi Police has launched an investigation into the selfless work of the Indian Youth Congress in responding to emergency calls from the Covid affected. He answers questions on funding among others

Indian Youth Congress president B.V. Srinivas
Indian Youth Congress president B.V. Srinivas
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Sanjukta Basu

International media attention, he says, has come as a surprise. B.V. Srinivas, President, Indian Youth Congress (IYC) has been interviewed in recent weeks by national and international media from New York Times to CNN International and hailed as a real-life hero in times of Covid.

When he eventually agreed to a telephonic interview, one expected him to be media savvy and articulate. It would come as a pleasant surprise to some and disappointment to many because he turned out to be shy, tongue-tied and somewhat reticent. Not your usual politician.

Srinivas (39) was appointed full-time president in December 2020 after he served as the interim president for over a yearof IYC, which was set up in 1960.

A student of National College, Basavanagudi, in Bengaluru, he began his political career as a NSUI member during college days. He joined IYC in 2006, contested organizational elections in 2011, was elected at the block level, served as General Secretary in Karnataka, and the All-India General Secretary and Vice President before being appointed to head the organisation. So much for the lack of internal democracy in the Congress.

From counselling youth who lost their job during the pandemic to arranging for food, shelter and transportation to the migrant workers, from free distribution of masks and sanitizers to arranging for oxygen, ICU beds, plasma and finally arranging the cremation of dead bodies– Srinivas and his team have touched lives of lakhs of Indians and they include BJP leaders, BJP supporters and even foreign diplomats, though he is curiously reluctant to talk about it.

By the time we finished talking, I asked how many calls he had missed and he later confirmed there were 30 missed calls during the 20 minutes or so we spoke. Excerpts from the interview:

How did the covid relief work start?

On March 1, 2020, Rahul Gandhi told IYC volunteers that there was a dangerous pandemic approaching, and advised us to be prepared. We started covid awareness campaigns like ‘Mask peheno India’, distributed masks and sanitizers at the farmers’ protest sites and other places. We arranged food and temporary shelter for migrant workers when they hit the highways after the lockdown and helped them with transportation. We carried our laptops, set up camps to book their tickets on the Shramik trains. Sonia Gandhiji had said, “Pay for their tickets, if they do not have the cash,” which we did.

What kind of network is currently operating?

A team of around 1000 IYC volunteers were selected including all IYC national office bearers and all state presidents. A dedicated phone number was chosen, I created the hashtag SOSIYC for social media. In Delhi office a team of 10-12 volunteers is tracking the hashtag on social media, maintaining database, segregating cases location wise, sending each case to the respective State President, monitoring beds and oxygen availability, and on the field around 100 volunteers in Delhi and in all 1000 volunteers across India are at work.

Are you ensuring personal safety of the volunteers?

We are following COVID protocols but there is always risk. How can you do such work without any risk?

How did people know that they can contact you?

IYC is notnew to relief work. People of India already know whom to reach out for help. Recently we have actively helped people in the Chamoli floods in Uttarakhand, cyclone relief work in Odisha, West Bengal and Kerala. It is our tradition.

Where is the fund coming from?

IYC members pooled in their own money. We have crores of members. IYC is the world’s biggest youth organization. Besides our own resources, public donations have also come.

How did you know there would be oxygen crisis or hospital beds and how did you know where to procure things?

We did not. This is the first time India is facing a medical crisis like this. As new challenges came, we improvised, and kept finding ways to help. It was all very organic. We heard somebody needs Oxygen, so we pulled in our contacts to source a cylinder, then we rotated it, and then there was a dominoes effect. People also helped by spreading the word.

You probably are not able to help everyone, did anybody get angry or called you a fraud?

It is not possible to help everyone. We try to segregate the cases and take only the extremely serious ones. Sure, some people become upset, but can you blame them? I am not bothered about what anybody calls me.

An anchor on a prominent TV channel got visibly upset when you spoke of Rahul Gandhi as your inspiration…what happened?

What can I say? People need to be a little more humble. Rahul ji was the one to tell us to prepare for Covid relief work even before people in India fully knew about the pandemic. He is in constant touch with us, monitoring us and giving us guidance. Not just him, several other Congress leaders are supporting us. It has been team-work everybody deserves credit.

I would not be here without Rahul ji. I come from an ordinary middle class family with no political connection. My father was an engineer, he is no more, and my mother worked with SAIL. I aspired to be a cricketer, played first division cricket represented my home State Karnataka in the under-19 team. Unfortunately, due to an injury I could not play anymore. I was involved in NSUI in the college, next thing I know is I was meeting Rahul Gandhi who said, “politics join karo, neta bano, neta chuno (Join politics. Be a leader. Choose a leader).” It is because of him that I am able to serve the people.

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