India celebrated Bhagat Singh’s 109th birth anniversary on Wednesday, with everybody from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to cricketer Gautam Gambhir and musician Vishal Dadlani turning up on Twitter to pay their respects to the legendary freedom fighter.
While Modi said Singh left an “indelible mark on India’s history”, Gambhir went on to call the patriot his “only idol, only mentor, only hero”. Even Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi took a break from his hectic strategising for the Uttar Pradesh polls to tweet how Singh’s “courage and sacrifice” continues to inspire generations.
But the mood at Singh’s ancestral village – Khatkar Kalan in Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar (Nawanshahr) district – was surprisingly downbeat, with local residents claiming that successive governments have failed to honour the legacy of an iconic personality who laid down his life for the country.
They claim that over a year after the Centre announced it would adopt the village as a special case, nothing has happened on the ground. Even a seven-year-old plan to set up a museum dedicated to Singh and other patriots has failed to materialise.
Singh was born in Banga village of Lyallpur district (now Faisalabad in Pakistan) on September 28, 1907. He was 23 when the British hanged him in 1931 for his involvement in the Lahore conspiracy case, along with Sukhdev Thapar and Shiv Ramhari Rajguru. The village still witnesses political functions on the birth and death anniversaries of India’s most beloved revolutionary.
The announcement to develop Khatkar Kalan as a model village was made by Union rural development minister Chaudhary Virender Singh on the martyr’s birth anniversary in 2015. “We hear politicians making such promises every year,” said Parminder Sahota, a villager. “We don’t take them seriously anymore.”
Claiming that Khatkar Kalan doesn’t even have the most basic facilities, Sahota said even a task as simple as repairing the freedom fighter’s ancestral home took over five years for the government to complete. And even now, it’s far from perfectly restored.
The walls of the house, which was taken over by the Archeological Survey of India in 1985, are still in a state of disrepair. A library set up by the state government near the structure has neither books nor a caretaker to look after them.
RK Yadav, the ASI-appointed caretaker of the house since 1985, said tourists have nevertheless been flocking to the house in the last five to seven years. “As many as 400-500 visitors visit it on an average every day,” he added.
Local MP Prem Singh Chandumajra maintained that the promise to turn Khatkar Kalan into a model village was not carried out due to certain procedural gaps. “We hope to start work on the scheme this year,” he said.
Though the museum project – being executed by Punjab government subsidiary Markfed – has witnessed the construction of the building complex, the art and civil engineering work is yet to be completed. “Funds are coming in at a very slow pace. For a long time, the central government did not release the money required – due to which work remained in limbo for nearly two years. It was resumed only in 2015,” said a district official on the condition of anonymity.
Former Union home minister P Chidambaram had laid the foundation stone for the museum project on February 23, 2009. It was envisioned as a memorial for Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Rajguru and over 9,000 martyrs from Punjab who sacrificed their lives during the Indian freedom struggle.
Today, the museum site lacks amenities as basic as drinking water. There are toilets for visitors, but they don’t have doors. “Miscreants made off with the toilet doors last year. We repeatedly asked the local administration to get new ones installed, but to no avail,” an employee said.