Whizzing past hundreds of villages—at places their kids big bellied, dogs pink-skinned -- on way to Etawah and then finding Saifai, the native village of Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav, the switch simply comes as a revelation.
The entire landscape suddenly changes. Huge structures—a medical university, a full-fledged stadium with an all-weather swimming pool, boys and girls’ colleges and hostels and Akhilesh Yadav’s signature cycle tracks—on both sides of the road do make one wonder if this is at all a village. And then an airstrip, which is currently being used by all political parties to reach Etawah and go places for campaigning. The airstrip, otherwise, only comes alive when the Yadavs have guests, including top industrialists and film personalities.
The core village area, the Saifai of yore where now lies the palatial kothi of the SP veteran, is, however, not extensive. It is the outers which have grown in leaps and bound. People have seen opportunity and made it their home. “The natives are just a handful, about 3000 in number. It’s people like us who have migrated and found a living here,” says Kundan whose family runs a refreshment stall bang opposite the under construction bungalow of one of the Yadavs. Saifai village falls under a tehsil that goes by the same name, acquired lately.
Saifai to Kundan works as an oasis—those who had nothing came and made a livelihood through the numerous facilities Samajwadi Party governments created from time to time, spawning opposition allegations of diverting huge funds in developing the place while rest of the state languished miserably.
But people in the vicinity vociferously defend the Yadav family. “They are elected by these very people and they must pay back. And that is precisely what they have done,” says an official of the Chandgiram International stadium. It is, in fact, this feeling of gratitude which works wonders for the political Yadav clan, even when the chips are down. Four of the family made it to the Lok Sabha when BJP under Narendra Modi swept Uttar Pradesh in 2014. Mainpuri, Kannauj, Ferozabad and Badaun went in the party’s bag out of the 80 seats. Mulayam also won Azamgarh along with Mainpuri and chose to retain Azamgarh later.
- Saifai is part of the Jaswantnagar assembly seat in Etawah district. In Lok Sabha, it is, however, part of Mainpuri.
- Etawah goes to polls in the third phase on February 19
- The region, especially Mainpuri and Etawah, has been loyal to the socialists since the 70s. The socialist churn in the area has been so strong that it was very rare that any Congress candidate won from here even in its heydays.
The real Saifai, a predominantly Yadav village having just about 150 houses in its belly, too has obviously changed-- not a single thatched house, flawless metalled roads and round the clock power supply. In fact, some of the houses, especially the ones close to the kothi, are no less imposing.
Life here, however, is laidback. Close to the kothi, the village elders (many of Mulayam’s age) can be spotted gossiping-- what else but state politics. You tell them that you are a journalist from the state capital and they get going in no time.
“Mainpuri (four seats) and Etawah (two out of three) are going to be ours. Can’t say much about Kannauj and Ferozabad (the other Yadav stronghold),” they tell you and ask with a wry smile, “Aparna (Mulayam’s younger daughter-in-law) ka kaisa chal raha hai (how is she poised).” Aparna is an SP candidate from Lucknow Cantonment.
They also seek to feel the pulse about Jaswantnagar (Saifai is part of the Jaswantnagar constituency which goes to polls in the third phase on February 19), from where a sulking Shivpal Yadav is a reluctant candidate.
To them, the SP-Congress alliance was needed and Akhilesh is simply a happening chief minister with a pan-India appeal. They see no feud in the Yadav family and say whatever happened will pass.
Simple village folks, proud neighbours of the state’s first family, now and who knows may be beyond. That suspense in their eyes today is worth a watch, something which can’t be described in proxy!