In the days following May 23, when the BJP returned to power riding on another Narendra Modi wave, came a breezy news from a village in Gonda, Uttar Pradesh: of a Muslim woman who had named her child — “born on the day of the election results” — ‘Narendra Damodardas Modi’.
Less than a month later, sitting in her unplastered, two-storey house in Parsapur Mahraur village, Mehnaz Begum, 25, says she regrets naming her child that, and blames her journalist cousin for allegedly convincing her to pull off the ‘fraud’. The child, it now turns out, was born on May 12, not 23, as Mehnaz declared in an affidavit addressed to the district magistrate and submitted to Assistant Development Officer (Panchayat) Ghanshyam Pandey.
Pandey confirms that he received Mehnaz’s affidavit with the child’s name as ‘Narendra Damodardas Modi’ and that he forwarded it to the DM’s office.
“Humein kya pata tha ki itni aafat aa jayegi. Hum toh apne khala ke ladke ke behkawe mein aa gaye ( I had no idea it would become such a big issue. I fell for what my aunt’s son told me),” Mehnaz says.
She alleges her first cousin, Mushtaq Ahmed, a journalist with Hindi daily Hindustan in Gonda, not just convinced her to name the child after Modi but also spread the word that the child was born on May 23. On May 25, Hindustan’s Lucknow edition carried a story on Mehnaz and baby ‘Modi’ on page 12, with Ahmed sharing the byline with Bureau Chief Qamar Abbas.
“Mushtaq made me mug up a short speech and tell mediapersons that my son was born on May 23 and that I have decided to name him after the Prime Minister. I am illiterate and don’t even know much about Narendra Modi,” says Mehnaz as neighbours gather at her house.
Denying the allegations and accusing Mehnaz of lying about the child’s birthday, Mushtaq says on the phone: “It was not my suggestion. She told me she would name her child Narendra Damodardas Modi and I agreed to write about it in the newspaper I work for. But I didn’t know she had lied about the child’s date of birth.”
Dr Ashutosh Shukla, Superintendent of the Community Health Centre at Wazirganj, 15 km from the village where Mehnaz delivered her child, confirmed that the boy was born on May 12. “It was a normal delivery and Mehnaz was discharged from hospital on May 13,” Shukla told The Sunday Express.
K K Upadhyay, who was Editor, Hindustan (Lucknow), when the story was published, said, “We got the story from the village and published it. The story is not false and the child’s name remains the same. The story was verified and the mother later told all mediapersons what she told us. Her story was published in all newspapers the same day.” Teervijay Singh, who has been appointed Editor, refused to comment, saying he would take charge only in July.
Senior Reporter Qamar Abbas, who shared the byline with Mushtaq, said, “After the whole thing got a lot of attention from the media, the woman may have been under pressure from her community. She probably fears that her child will be boycotted. Which explains why she is levelling these allegations against my colleague after 10-15 days.”
Mehnaz’s husband Mohd Mushtaq Ahmed works as a mason in Dubai and last came home in November 2018. “He is angry with the whole controversy and has not sent me any money for June. He usually sends Rs 4,000 a month. Only when he comes again for Diwali this year will I be able to explain to him what happened. I hope he sends me money from next month. This house belongs to my father-in-law and I don’t have any other source of income except for what my husband sends me every month,” she says, wiping her tears and cradling the little ‘Modi’.
“He has had a cough and cold for a couple of weeks. I have to take him to the doctor every day and he charges me Rs 200 per visit,” she adds.
Mehnaz has two other children — Mantasiha Fatima, 7, and Zoya Fatima, 4.
Saying no local politician or leader visited her and the child, Mehnaz adds, “Only the media visited us, took photographs, interviewed us and left. They stopped visiting us after the issue about my son’s date of birth came up,” she says, asking the neighbours to leave her alone.
After they have moved out, she says, “Some people belonging to my community have boycotted us because they had issues with me naming the child after a Hindu leader. This Eid, very few people came home to eat sewai, whereas every year, we would be tired washing the dishes.”
“Some people in the village have been saying that I will be sent to jail for lying. Now I am scared. If I go to jail, who will look after my children?” she adds.
Standing outside Mehnaz’s house are neighbours Deepak Singh, 28, and Mohd Shamsuddin, 27. “She can name her child what she wants. Why should anyone have a problem?” argues Shamsuddin, as Deepak nods.
Sitting at a tea shop with others, Mehnaz’s father-in-law Mohd Idris, 61, blames his daughter-in-law and her cousin for the controversy. “On May 22, she and Mushtaq were talking and planning something. I don’t interfere much in her life. On May 24, Mushtaq wrote in the newspaper about her naming the child Narendra Modi. After that, several other media people came and interviewed us. When I asked Mehnaz about the child’s name, she said she had discussed it with her husband,” says Idris, dejected.
Speaking on behalf of his mother who is the village pradhan, Riyaz Ahmed, 35, accuses Mehnaz of lying. “She was told that if she names her child after Narendra Modi, the baby would be adopted by the government and would get benefits. Someone in the village let out to the media that the child was not born on May 23. After that, reporters went to the hospital and checked. No one has boycotted the family. She is saying that because she was caught lying,” says Riyaz.
At home, peeling potatoes for dinner with little ‘Modi’ by her side, Mehnaz says she now wants to name the child Aftab Alam Mohd Modi, but needs help filing a revised affidavit.
“Anyway, at home, I simply call him Aftab,” she says.