KANKER In this far flung corner of Chhattisgarh, there is a team of youths and a few professionals burning the midnight oil to ensure a hurdle-free journey for Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi.
After joining issue with the authorities of Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh over the shoddy implementation of National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), the 37-year-old MP arrived in Raipur on Friday.
Some of the foot soldiers combing the area, over which hangs a shadow of Maoist violence, are engineering students; some are professionals. They have travelled from different parts of India to camp in Chhattisgarh for the next few days.
"There is a pan-Indian flavour as every team has members from different state units," Manas Ranjan Kar, an engineering student and a team member, said.
Kar is from Orissa and has been a part of Gandhi's recent tours to Orissa and Karnataka. His team consists of members from Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Aware of the critical responsibility on their hands, the students and youths have worked out a division of labour between themselves.
"Gandhi always had a core team consisting of around six members. They chalk out tours based on the issues that are going to be important in polls," said a Youth Congress member.
They are a multi-task force. The teams shuffle files, jot down opinions from locals and make suggestions about Gandhi's interactions and how they should be conducted. They also make hotel reservations and work on the nitty gritty of the tours.
NSUI national president Nadeem Javed carried two plastic sacks full of T-shirts with NSUI logos on his flight to Raipur on Friday.
Gandhi had refused a ministerial berth in the Manmohan Singh government, saying all he wanted to do was rejuvenate the Youth Congress. His efforts, volunteers say, were yielding dividends. An organizational framework was taking shape.
Each team of Youth Congress and NSUI members is given the task of handling a day's programmme of a tour. To oversee these teams, there is a 28-member task force.
Gandhi has a monitoring feedback team that sends him a report from the spot, before and after a tour.
"This is a good experience for us. We get to visit new places and learn a lot," said Anil Kumar Yadav, an NSUI member and son of Secundrabad MP Anjan Kumar Yadav. This law student has been camping here for the past two days.
There are some team members - professionals - who have an eye on their future political careers. They believe a stint with a political luminary like Rahul Gandhi will help them rise in the party hierarchy.
"Those who were in Rajiv Gandhi's core team became chief ministers and ministers in the union government. We too think of a bright future," said one member of the task force.
When a tour is planned, the NSUI and IYC units of the area are informed a week in advance about it and become active. These new teams arrive one or two days before the event. "From the last few visits we know what all to look for and where there can be hurdles," Kar said.
Javed arrived a day in advance and inspected the venues. He also held late night meetings with the Chhattisgarh NSUI president Vikas Upadhyay and his team.
IYC president Ashok Tanwar, who has been a part of all such tours and follows the same routine, said: "We also coordinate and take stock of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) in the areas we are visiting."
With the 'Discover India' tour of Rahul set to be a regular feature at least till the next Lok Sabha elections scheduled for May 2009 these members are in for a long haul. The hope of reaping a rich harvest in the future gives them the enthusiasm to go on.