February 18, 2017 5:58:36 pm
“This road has the blessings of Mulayam Singh Yadav,” a local journalist remarked as the car in which we travelled literally zoomed towards Saifai, the village that Uttar Pradesh’s ruling Yadav family calls its home. Except it’s not a village anymore. Saifai and its 1,500 households have been showered with so much money that it has the kind of infrastructure rivalling some of the bigger towns in the state that have 10 times its population.
“Wahan ki bhainsen swimming pool mein nahati hai (The buffaloes there bathe in swimming pools),” a shopkeeper in Etawah town told me in a statement that smacked of contempt and derision for the present regime.
Saifai, located 24 kilometres from Etawah town, can be reached in less than half-an-hour thanks to a super smooth state highway that connects the district to Mainpuri. The wide road, dotted by paddy fields and brick houses on either side, stood in wide contrast to the choked, traffic-filled roads of Etawah town where cars, buses, trucks, rickshaws and buffalo carts jostled for space.
While Etawah has remained the Yadav parivar’s solid fortress over the years thanks to cleverly nurtured caste-based vote banks and the delivery of basic bijli-paani facilities, Saifai undoubtedly has reaped the largesse that the SP gave in its multiple terms in power.
The road to Saifai cuts away from the state highway and has rows of shops at its entrance, run by people who are aware of the large number of visitors streaming into the high-profile township. Cooperative bank, inter college for girls, an air strip, an international sports complex comprising of an athletics stadium and an indoor swimming pool, a massive pandal that becomes the venue for the annual Saifai Mahotsav, public sector banks and ATMs, sports college and perhaps the centre of attraction for many, the palatial white bungalows belonging to Mulayam Singh Yadav and his extended family – the sprawling infrastructure in Saifai astounds many.
That Saifai falls under the Jaswantnagar constituency, held by Mulayam’s brother Shivpal since 1996, is an added benefit. In the last election, Shivpal won the constituency garnering 61 per cent of the votes cast and winning by more than 80,000 votes. This time, his supporters are raring for a 1-lakh victory margin, quite possible considering the locals have been charmed with funds over the years by the SP, and want to make it the biggest-ever win in the state.
But the rapid makeover of Saifai has left a bad impression in the minds of many voters in neighbouring Etawah town.
“Akhilesh has given laptops to girl students passing out of colleges but what about jobs? There are no factories here. Only people in Saifai are getting jobs,” complained Amrar, a vegetable vendor at the town’s mandi.
Amrar is not entirely wrong. Every time Mulayam became the chief minister of the state, government funds came pouring in for his ancestral village as compared to other villages. From what was a village that had muddy roads, a single school and kachcha houses, Saifai today boasts of smooth concrete roads, tall buildings, 24-hour power supply, hospitals, educational institutions, sports complexes and even a shopping mall dubbed ‘apna bazar.’ The current Akhilesh administration in 2015 had sanctioned Rs 700 crore for Saifai that included funds to build an international cricket stadium for a seating capacity of 40,000 people, a swimming pool and an astroturf for hockey. The massive cricket stadium is nearing completion.
Earlier this week, two guards sauntered in the lawn of a shopping complex dubbed ‘apna bazaar’ that strangely reminds Delhiites of the popular colonaded pathways of Connaught Place (CP). Unlike CP, however, always brimming with shoppers, the apna bazaar in Saifai wore a deserted look. Although it was inaugurated in 2013 by the chief minister, none of the shops, except one, seemed occupied by commercial establishments. With a clock tower on one side, amphitheatre and guest rooms on the first floor, the complex exemplified the generosity of the Yadav family for its ancestral village.
Just a kilometre away, half a dozen men laboured in the hot afternoon sun in making a cycle track on both sides of the road. It is said that the chief minister’s affinity to cycling had resulted in the project for a 13-km cycle track that will have coloured micro surfacing with bitumen similar to the ones seen in The Netherlands. Whether a village like Saifai that already has wide roads needs a cycle track is debatable but it deserves to be mentioned that by doing so, the Samajwadi leaders are making sure their party symbol is intrinsically linked to the voters in the constituency.
“Kabhi lagta hai, Akhilesh ji pradesh ke nahi, Saifai ke mukhyamantri hai (Sometimes, I feel Akhilesh ji is Saifai’s chief minister, not Uttar Pradesh),” quips Pintu, a cab driver.
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