Ask anyone in the village about the house of Soma Devi that the Gandhi progeny once visited, and they’ll lead you to the place caught in a time warp. The family of five lives in the same dingy conditions as five years ago, except that the two rooms now have brick lintels and the setting includes a gifted steel trunk and a wheat container.
Soma stopped doing labour after she was injured in a roof collapse but her husband and two sons work as daily wagers. The youngest son, who is in college, hopes to find a reasonable job one day to lift the family out of poverty.
The memories of Rahul Gandhi visit are fresh in Soma’s mind. There was no electricity in her house when the Gandhi scion, then All-India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary, came calling more than five years ago. Someone had arranged a candle from the neighbourhood to help the VVIP guest take a look around.
Gandhi had asked her about her family income, children’s education and the government aid. Hopes raised, Soma voted for the Congress in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, but this time she won’t.
“Main Congress nu kyon vote paun? Ohna ne ki keeta saade layi? Main tan ohna nu vote paun jina ne sanu daane ditte (Why will I vote for Congress? What has it done for us? I will vote for those who gave us grain),” she says, collecting cow dung from the ramshackle cattle shed.
A few days ago, the family had received 25-kilogram wheat at subsidised rate. For someone who does not have enough to eat, it was as a big dole. “I told Rahul Gandhi that a portion of my roof had collapsed in the rains and because of poverty, I could not send my children to school. He noted down everything and promised to help but nothing happened. Even the leaders who accompanied him never returned to check up on me,” said Soma.
All she got was Rs. 2,000 for the electricity connection. For that too, a senior leader asked her to write a note of thanks to Rahul. When her daughter got married, she sought help from many local leaders but no one obliged.
One of her sons is grown up but she is delaying his marriage, as the family can’t afford to feed more mouths. “We need a bigger accommodation but don’t have enough money for it,” she says.
Hope still flickers in her eyes, as she says: “Agge hatth nu votan paaiyan te hun phull walyan nu paa ke dekh lende han. Shayad eh hi
kujh karan (Earlier I voted for the hand (the Congress) and now I’ll test the flower party (the BJP). Perhaps, they will bring some relief to my family).”