Chet Ram can’t recall when exactly his famous cousin -- BJP veteran and former chief minister Bhuvan Chandra Khanduri -- migrated from Margadna, his ancestral village. “I must have been a child when they (Khanduris) had relocated from here,” said septuagenarian Ram, around 10 years younger to Khanduri who was born at Dehradun in 1934.
The former Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel has no idea how Margadna reacted when Khanduri, a retired major general, was first elected as a member of parliament from Pauri in 1991, the year the former chief minister joined the BJP. Khanduri served in the Indian army’s Corps of Engineers from 1954 to 1990.
“I have no idea about how people here reacted to his (Khanduri) maiden entry into parliament…I was then away guarding the India-China border,” recalled Ram. The residents of Margadna though remember how they rejoiced over Khanduri’s victory. “We were all overjoyed at his election to parliament because it was something we had never expected,” said Virendra Dobhal, 42, the pradhan of Margadna. “None of us ever imagined that somebody from us would one day enter politics and lead the country at the national level.”
Their joy “knew no bounds” when Khanduri took over as the Union surface transport minister in the then NDA government. “We celebrated the event by organising a Pandav Nritya, a famous group dance of Garhwal, which was performed to the beats of Dhol-Damau,” recalled Dobhal, referring to the traditional drums played by local artistes to celebrate the region’s folk festivals.
Margadna was “overjoyed” when Khanduri became the chief minister after the BJP won the 2007 assembly election. “We were happy for him, expecting that he would do something for the country,” Dobhal said, clarifying that most residents of the village never wanted to use Khaduri for personal benefits.
The population of Margadna is thinning out fast because of lack of medical and educational facilities, and crop damage by wild animals. The remoteness of the village also spurs forced migration. Perched on the shoulder of a steep slope, the village can be reached through a one-and-a-half-km trek.
“We continue to stay here because we are now an ageing couple…We also don’t have enough means to migrate,” said Bina Devi, 61, Khanduri’s sister-in-law. Khanduri now comes to his ancestral village occasionally but can’t visit them owing to the age factor as their house is located at a steep slope, she said. “He returns after offering prayers at the temple he got built on his ancestral land near the main road.”
The temple was erected at the spot where Khanduri’s ancestral house had once existed. It was destroyed in the 1995 forest fires that raged through the mountain state, villagers said.
Khanduri’s visits to his native village may be occasional, but his bond with his relatives remains intact. Bina Devi describes her brother-in-law as “tradition bound who treats me and other family members” with respect.
Khanduri tried to link his remote village with an approach road. “A survey had been completed after he got it (the approach road) sanctioned,” she said, adding that the project failed to materialise as villagers refused to part with their land.
But not many are generous towards Khanduri and accuse him of failing to leverage his position to provide even basic facilities, such as a primary health centre, to the village. “Half of the families have already migrated from here. It will soon turn into a ghost village like many dotting this border state,” rued Sohan Singh Sajwan, a retired soldier.