In 2015, Varsha Nikam was elected as the sarpanch in Mankapur, Maharashtra. The village had no bridge. An educator for over two decades before her stint in politics, Nikam was aware of how difficult it was for kids to come to school. After countless letters to local, district and national leaders, she managed to bring the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to her village.
“Mere gaam ka pool gum gaya hai, aap ussey khoj do (My village’s bridge got lost, please find it),” she once wrote in a short letter to Ajit Pawar, the Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra, moving the government machinery into action. A few months later, Nikam received a call by the ADB that she was going to get her bridge and they were financing it.
Varshatai, as she is fondly known in her constituency, was going to get her “pooliya.”
For Nikam, all politics is personal. The grassroots leader has been working tirelessly to improve education for girls and children in her village since she first visited her husband’s family in Yavatmal in 1989. Watching impoverished kids play by the river all day motivated the young educator in her to build a school. After finishing her bachelor’s in education, Nikam interviewed for a few schools around Maharashtra, but the dream of free education brought her back to Yavatmal.
In 1993, she started the Ravindranath Tagore School, inspired by the Bengali polymath, nobel laureate and his focus on education. The school provides free education and mid-day meal programs to students till grade 12 and students from 8-10 nearby villages go to Yavatmal. She also provides free books to students and sanitary napkins to girls to stop girls from dropping out of school.
“In the 90s, when I told my husband, who is also a Zilla Parishad high school teacher, that I wanted to start a school, he said that it is a rich person’s dream and our salaries will never be enough. Eventually he agreed but running the school was always a struggle,” said Nikam. “The first thing I sold was my mangalsutra so I could buy benches for kids. I sold all my gold and built a school out of it.”
Presently, she is the Joint Secretary for Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Maharashtra, and a gram-panchayat member (2021). Nikam was elected as the Sarpanch of Mankapur from 2015-2020. For three terms now, she has been elected in the local government. This year, Varshatai decided to not become the sarpanch for the third term despite winning unopposed because she wants to be a “kingmaker”
“Nearly 70 percent of those in my village I want to train the people to run for office. For me, I want to move ahead in politics. Like many female politicians I know, I dream to go from panchayat to the parliament.”