‘Amethi Hasn’t Heard Of Me Or Shahrukh Khan’

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Neha Dixit grills glamour girl Pooja Bedi on her newfound love for the grassroots and charity at a mass level

Photo: K Sateesh

Why did you choose Amethi to launch your organisation, the Grassroot Foundation?
The Mumbai infrastructure is caving in due to overcrowding and a lot of the migrants who are coming in are from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Clearly, they are not happy with their life and the means of livelihood there. Which is why they feel the need to move to cities in search of a decent life. I felt if we keep them happy and give them dignity of life within their villages, they will not feel the need to leave their families to seek jobs. The second reason is on a human level. That is, when I want to do charity on a mass level, it is extremely important for me that I start a zero administrative cost foundation. Now if I need to touch base at the grassroots level with a minimum cost, I need to be in contact with people who are already at the grassroots level. So I approached Rahul Gandhi and his office put me in touch with his team in Amethi whose mission it is to reduce poverty and to empower women.

But why not any other place in UP, considering that any work in Amethi is an invitation to instant publicity?
I believe in causes. Places don’t matter. My idea was to do work at zero administrative cost. Associating with Rahul’s team in Amethi made our work a lot easier. We don’t have to waste time researching. We can directly start work.

You have joined hands with Rahul Gandhi. Haven’t you indirectly opened the door for political interference in social work?
We are an independent NGO and not part of the Congress party. We are independent of politics and politicians and are only looking at them for grassroots support. I was delighted to be in an area where I could provide homes, employment opportunity, training skills, education and take that cause further.

For someone associated with glamour, were the people in the villages receptive to your initiative?
I have to tell you a very amusing story. On a visit to a village, one of the volunteers asked the villagers if anybody knew me and they all looked at me blankly. So I thought, let me remind them of Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar and I asked who knows Aamir Khan, so they again looked blank. The same for Shahrukh Khan. Then, when I said who knows Amitabh Bachchan, they all went berserk raising their hands. What is amazing is that despite all the remoteness, they are determined and out there to change their lives.

‘I am not joining politics. I am very disdainful of most political processes’

Big names like Shekhar Kapoor, Suhel Seth and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw are associated with your organisation. However, none have any experience in the social sector.
My mother embedded a quote in me a long time ago, that if you want something truly, the whole universe conspires to make it happen. I have been doing charity for a decade now, in my own little way. Our foundation is committed to five issues — poverty, housing, education, farming reforms, training skills for livelihood and microfinance. Kiran Mazumdar is one of my trustees and she has requested to include health care. Shekhar Kapoor is making a film on farming. His interests lie in farming reforms and rain water harvesting.

Considering that Rahul Gandhi’s grassroots work inspires you, any plans of joining politics in the future?
My answer is a very clear and a resounding no. I am very disdainful of most political processes.

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