Ashort detour from National Highway 2 in Etawah city to the state highway leading to Mainpuri surprisingly doesn’t open up onto a rural inland. What emerges instead as you go along the two-lane road, on which work is in progress to make it four-lane, are tall buildings and bungalows surrounded by mustard and wheat fields. This is Saifai, the ancestral village of Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav and Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. But it is not your usual village — it doesn’t have a single mud house, has a functional sewage system, 24-hour power supply and concrete roads. Even many big cities of Uttar Pradesh do not have the kind of civic amenities and infrastructure that are available here.
Saifai was just another Yadav-dominated village in Etawah district, until Mulayam first came to power in UP in 1993. Now, it has a police station, and has become a development block and a tehsil. The village, with a population of 7,141, is part of Mainpuri Lok Sabha constituency and Jaswant Nagar assembly constituency represented by Mulayam and his brother Shivpal Yadav, respectively.
As the sun set on January 8, SUVs, vans, motorcycles and tractor-trolleys crowded the entry to the glittering Niwas Maidan, the venue for Saifai Mahotsav. Traffic policemen struggled to route VIP vehicles in the right lane. Later that evening, Mulayam and Akhilesh Yadav watched performances by Bollywood stars like Salman Khan, Madhuri Dixit and Mallika Sherawat, regardless of the furore created by the opposition over the extravaganza at Saifai, while the Muzaffarnagar riots victims suffered. The rural Saifai mela was first spiced up, with the spectacle of dancing stars, by former SP leader Amar Singh last decade.
Sitting on the side of the road, about 5 km from Saifai, a 62-year-old farmer of Nagla Nathu village, Mulayam Singh, says had the crores spent on the actors been used for the development of the area, it would have made a big difference. But 22-year-old Hariom Yadav intervenes: “Par humko Madhuri Dixit aur Salman Khan dekhan ko kaise milte dadda? (But how would we have got to see Madhuri Dixit and Salman Khan, grandpa?)”
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Two decades ago, Saifai was just like their own village. Nagla Nathu got a primary school only in 2006 and a connecting road only last year. “Our village still does not have a proper drainage system. The streets become muddy in the rains. Even the school isn’t good, so most prefer sending their children to private schools in neigbouring Karhal or Saifai,” says Kamlesh Yadav, a farmer from Nagla Nathu. His two sons, one in Class 12 and the other an undergraduate, are studying in private institutions, but he expects them to work at his farm after they finish their studies.
“There are no jobs available without recommendations from ministers and MLAs, so they might as well work on the family land,” says the 46-year-old, who owns less than a hectare of land.
Its proximity to SP chief’s native place has ensured 24-hour electricity to Nagla Nathu, but there is resentment at being left behind. “Je carein dekhne ko mil jaati hai, aur ka hai (we get to see all these cars, what else)?” says Kamlesh, pointing towards SUVs speeding to Saifai.
Clearly, the opportunities lie in Saifai. A 35-year-old bakery shop owner, Indrajeet Yadav, shifted his family from Karhal in Mainpuri district to Saifai two years ago and opened his shop in one of the half-a-dozen markets that have come up around the village. “This is where development is happening. We get regular power supply, roads are good, there are schools, colleges, good hospitals and banks,” he says. The village has branches of several major banks, including Bank of Baroda, Bank of India, Union Bank of India and two cooperative banks.
Indrajeet lives at a rented accommodation in Saifai with his wife and two children. His two sons study in LKG and UKG at the English-medium Sughar Singh Memorial School, run in the name of Mulayam’s father. Indrajeet has also bought a 1,200 square-foot plot on the outskirts of the village for Rs 8 lakh. “Everyone wants to buy property here. The rates are higher than in many cities,” he says. Indrajeet hopes that Saifai will soon become a district. The village was rumoured to replace Lucknow as the state capital during Mulayam’s last tenure as CM. Soon after becoming the CM in 2012, Akhilesh announced that a Saifai Development Authority will be set up for its planned development.
The development here is multi-layered and healthcare facilities are not far behind. A building with white walls and a red roof houses the employees of the Rural Institute of Medical Sciences and Research. A few yards away is the academic block. A tar road from the academic block leads to four blocks of buildings being developed as hostels. Set up with an allocated fund of Rs 270 crore in 2005, the institute has been constantly upgraded. It has a super specialty wing and a research organisation. The paramedical college developed at a cost of about Rs 300 crore is a recent addition. An emergency trauma and burns centre is also in the making at an estimated cost of Rs 42 crore.
The Saifai airstrip, 10 km from the village, helps the government fly in celebrities every year for the Saifai Mahotsav. The previous Mulayam government spent Rs 100 crore to upgrade it to international standards. Akhilesh’s cabinet took it forward, and handed it over to the Airports Authority of India for the development of an airport. Crores have been spent on maintaining the runway lights and repairing its boundary walls.
The road which connects the village and the airstrip is a cemented four-lane one. The residents of nearby Odampur village say two decades ago Saifai was the laggard, it didn’t even have a road. “The villagers of Odampur had pooled in to build a pucca road and a primary school,” says Pradeep Mishra, a schoolteacher in Odampur.
Odampur still has that one primary school, while Saifai has several schools and research institutes, including the Amitabh Bachchan Government Inter-College, which was established in 1997 when Mulayam was defence minister, and the Chaudhary Charan Singh Post Graduate College.
“Our village and Saifai used to be similar, but now there are huge differences. Not a single resident of our village has a government job. The roads inside the village haven’t been repaired for years,” says Sintu Mishra, a farmer in Odampur.
When SP first came to power in UP in 1993, Mulayam made small budget allocations for Saifai. Eventually, bigger projects came in. The first area Mulayam, a former wrestler, focused on was sports. He set up the Chandgi Ram Sports Stadium named after a Haryana wrestler and an international sports complex at a cost of Rs 58 crore. Akhilesh’s government sanctioned Rs 5 crore for a sports college last year. An all-weather “international-level” swimming pool at a cost of Rs 103.21 crore is also coming up. Saifai has a Sports Authority of India’s training centre, too.
For children of Odampur, a small uneven area outside the village’s only school doubles as a playground. “This kharanja road (brick pavement) was made over a decade back and it has not been repaired since, and there are no drains,” says Darshan Singh, a farmer. Odampur is one of the few villages in this Yadav-dominated area that does not have a single Yadav household.
Nem Singh Yadav, 82, a resident of Saifai, says he has seen Saifai from the times of angrezi shasan (British rule). “Saifai was a small village, which had only one primary school. All houses were made of mud and there were no pucca roads. Mantri (as Mulayam is called in Saifai) did a lot for the village. Now, all the houses, including those of lower castes, are made of bricks and cement,” he says, basking in the sun outside his house. One of Nem Singh’s sons works at the UP secretariat, another is in the police and the third with the provincial armed constabulary.
Locals say each family of Saifai has at least one member employed with the government. “Saifai has progressed with Mantri. Even those who did not get a government job are well-off here. My nephew Pappu has remained with Mantri since the beginning,” says Nem Singh, pointing towards his white bungalow, where an SP flag is aflutter.
Nem Singh sounds a little skeptical about Akhilesh doing as much for Saifai as his father did, but the young CM has not strayed from the script. Since Akhilesh came to power, Rs 26 crore has been allotted for construction of shops, offices, rooms, cafeteria, among other things, for developing Apna Bazar, a form of local mandi, where farmers can sell their produce. In March 2013, the government sanctioned Rs 3.11 crore for the construction of a tourism complex in Saifai.
With more projects in the pipeline for Saifai, the villagers have nothing to complain about.