Page last updated at 17:21 GMT, Wednesday, 18 March 2009

India's school for better politicians

By Amarnath Tewary in Ranchi, Jharkhand

The Netagiri school (Photograph: Mahadeo Sen)
The school has 200 registered students Pictures: Mahadeo Sen

It's poll time in India and aspiring politicians are making a beeline for a school set up exclusively to groom the future leaders of the country.

The unique Netagiri (leadership) school was established on 26 April 2001 in Ranchi, the capital of the eastern state of Jharkhand, with just 26 students on its roll.

Today, the school has more than 200 registered students who visit it every Saturday to take the weekly afternoon class.

India is getting ready for general elections which start on 16 April and go on until 13 May.

Ever since the election dates were announced, those with political ambition have been trooping in to take lessons and a few ready tips for their political future.

The Netagiri school has produced several state, district and community-level politicians.

'Political legacy'

The classes are conducted from an oval hall in the house of Raj Ranjan, whose father and brother were both former Congress party politicians.

Mr Ranjan says he founded the school after the death of his politician brother Gyan Ranjan to carry forward the political legacy of his family.

"The lack of awareness on the part of the general public towards issues related to them compelled me to start this school," Mr Ranjan told the BBC.

A class in progress at the Netagiri school (Photograph: Mahadeo Sen)
Classes are held for two hours every week

"I started the school to make the society in general aware about the political situation of our country. Through education, aspiring politicians can serve their society and country better," he says.

The school with rows of red plastic chairs runs for two hours every Saturday afternoon and the three-month course covers subjects like political science, social psychology, economics and sociology.

Students have to pay a one-off enrolment fee of 50 rupees (about $1).

There is no age limit for admission to the school but "obviously the students must be over 18 years - the age at which Indians get their voting rights under the constitution", Mr Ranjan says.

The present batch of students at this school ranges between 18 and 70 years.

A local tribal, Lilendra Munda, 21, is the school's youngest student, while 70-year-old Sukhdeo Lohra is the oldest.

'Learnt more'

For the last two years, Mr Munda has been pedalling 40km (25 miles) on his creaky bicycle to get to the Netagiri school. One day, he hopes to represent his area Burmu, near Ranchi.

"I have learnt more here than I did in my school. Here I have learnt about community development, social welfare schemes undertaken by the government and also how to make common people politically aware," Mr Munda told the BBC.

Raj Ranjan
Mr Ranjan says education will make for a better society

The oldest student, Sukhdeo Lohra, has been in active politics and even contested, although unsuccessfully, the last state assembly election from Lohardaga as an independent candidate.

Now, he has formed a political party, Manav Vikas Party (Human Development Party), and is planning to run again from Lohardaga in the forthcoming general elections.

"Besides political lessons, in the Netagiri school we learn lessons of life," Mr Lohra says.

Another student, Murtaza Ansari, 60, has been coming to the school ever since it was founded.

A regular, he has hardly missed a class in the last eight years.

"I was educated at a madrassa (Muslim seminary) but here I got the direction of my life. Now I work for the welfare of the poor through a trust which I founded some time back," Mr Ansari says.

Seasoned politicians

He too aspires to running for the state assembly one day.

The school also has some seasoned politicians on its rolls. They include senior Congress party leaders PN Singh and Ajay Rai.

Mr Rai is the first fully groomed student of the Netagiri school who later became the president of a local labour organisation and state Congress leader.

"The government, the market and the society are all inter-connected and I learnt it from this school," Mr Rai told the BBC.

Among the school's students are about 20 women who come here regularly to nurse their political ambition.

School teacher Meenu Ranjan and documentary filmmaker Rashmi Sharan have both been attending the Netagiri school as "it helps in building their confidence to interact with common people on issues concerning them".

Sadia Sadaf, Yasmin Khatoon and Rukhar Pravin have been coming to Netagiri to learn about politics and political economy.

The school's founder-principal Raj Ranjan says: "It's my personal effort to improve society by creating well-informed future leaders who would serve society better.

"Only then will my purpose of setting up this school be achieved."

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