PM's proposer spells out her dreams for Varanasi

Updated: May 14, 2019, 07:33 IST | Dharmendra Jore | Mumbai

Academician and infant healthcare specialist Dr Annapurna Shukla says when Modi touched her feet, she blessed him like a mother and asked him to take responsibility of the country

Dr Annapurna Shukla and her husband Dr B M Shukla at their Varanasi home. Pic/Dharmendra Jore
Dr Annapurna Shukla and her husband Dr B M Shukla at their Varanasi home. Pic/Dharmendra Jore

Dr Annapurna Shukla, 91, was pleasantly surprised when a close aide of Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited her Varanasi residence last month and requested her to be one of the proposers for the leader's Lok Sabha candidature. Days later on April 27, Modi touched her feet before submitting his papers to the returning officer. Varanasi respects Dr Annapurna as an infant healthcare specialist, who quit a lucrative career as an academician at the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) to serve the society. Post-retirement she built an orphanage and a technical school that has trained 92,000 girls so far. Another reason why she and her husband Dr B M Shukla, 95, former vice-chancellor of Gorakhpur University, are highly regarded is that they have not had any political affiliation so far.

But why did she agree to endorse Modi? Reacting to this, she said, "I'm not a politician but a social worker and academician. I did not go there to give a boost to Modi's popularity. I know him as a person who loves his mother. He sought my blessings. When he touched my feet, I blessed him as a mother. I asked him to take responsibility of the nation as any mother who cares for her child would do. When I said this to him, he had tears in his eyes."

Where's the approval?

However, Dr Annapurna has a message for Modi. "A women's undergraduate college in BHU, which I wished to turn into an institute, has not got the much sought-after-status yet," she said while speaking to mid-day at her home. After she completed her MBBS in 1950, when her foster father and BHU founder Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya asked her to join his university, she did not think twice. She was appointed a medical officer of the girls' hostel and asked to teach domestic science (later known as home science) at the college, which celebrated its silver, golden and diamond jubilee in her 40-year stint. She also impressed upon the BHU council to start courses in Sanskrit and Indian classical music. "The proposal to give my college the status of an institute was almost finalised in 1990, which incidentally was my retirement year, but files in the matter haven't moved since then. I wish the proposal gets approved." When asked whether she spoke to Modi about it or she would seek the PM's help in future, Dr Annapurna said that she hadn't discussed the proposal with him.

Of dreams and aspirations

At a time when it was becoming difficult for her to continue her teaching job, as she didn't have a post-graduate degree, she travelled to the UK to get a PhD in infant nutrition. Her research paper, which was carried in Dudley, Worcestershire, established that babies of age up to one year, who were fed solid food and not breast milk, were obese. The British government had swung into action and asked companies to carry warning messages on baby food products that they were no substitute for mother's milk. After she returned to India post her PhD, she resumed work at BHU. "I'm happy that I could fulfill the promise I made to Malviyaji at the age of six that I would become a doctor and serve the society," she added.

Post-retirement, she had joined Kashi Anathalaya (orphanage), and had even started Vanita Polytechnic for women. She had tried to get the polytechnic affiliated to government boards, after which Shreemati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey Women's University (SNDT) gave affiliation for a four-year course that the polytechnic conducts. She said that taking the polytechnic to great heights was her next dream, with or without the government's support.

The IIT-BHU crack

Meanwhile, speaking about the proposal to convert BHU's Engineering, Mining and Metallurgy and Technology colleges into the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Dr B M Shukla, who has served as vice-chancellor of Gorakhpur University and foreign missions in the then USSR, said that there was a sinister plan behind separating an elite institute from the grand-old university. "Soon they will erect a wall separating IIT and BHU. Why? There was a time when BHU's conglomerate of colleges, which is now the IIT, gave the country 80 per cent of its engineers. It's a national heritage for which freedom fighters, teachers and students fought and went to jail. I have requested PM Modi to scrap the proposal," he said.

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