A 13-year-old newspaper vendor in Bhopal is the focus of an ongoing game of one-upmanship between Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Union HRD minister Smriti Irani.
The story began about three years ago, when Kaushal Shakya sold the Congress leader a newspaper during the politician’s visit to the state Congress office in Bhopal in April 2013. When Gandhi offered him a Rs 1,000 note, Shakya graciously declined and gave him the newspaper for free.
During a brief chat with Gandhi, the boy revealed how he wished to become a doctor.
The next month, then state Congress president Kantilal Bhuria announced that the party would pay Rs 1,000 per month for the boy’s education. Congress leader Naresh Gyanchandani was instructed to provide the money while Syed Sajid Ali assured a job to his father.
The story took an unexpected turn when the money stopped coming and the boy, who lives in a Roshanpura slum, had to stop attending classes at Dr Radhakrishnan School.
“They are making fun of our poverty,” said Shakya’s mother, Shayama Bai. “First they assured financial assistance for studies of my son and later they withdrew support. He had to waste one year as he couldn’t continue his studies.”
Congress, however, denies the allegation.
“I gave admission to the boy in Class 6 in my higher secondary school and I also gave job to the boy’s elder brother, who is still getting Rs 6,000 per month...Later, the boy withdrew himself saying that the school was far away from his house and got admission in another school near his locality,” said Ali.
Gyanchandani said he gave the boy Rs 12,000 and the state Congress was to continue future payments. “Anyway, the boy’s family is supported by the Congress,” he said.
Nonetheless, Congress leaders allege that in a move to trump Gandhi, Irani stepped up, offering support to the boy.
“I am to convey the approval of HRM and chairman KVS Smriti Zubin Irani for grant of admission to Master Kaushal Shakya s/o Dulichand Shakya in Class 6 in KV no. 1, Bhopal,” wrote Anjana Hazarika, assistant commissioner (academic), Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangthan, HRD ministry, in a letter on April 6.
Repeated calls to Irani went unanswered.
The boy, on the other hand, knows nothing about this political game. All he knows is that he still wants to become a doctor.