The Varanasi village Narendra Modi has adopted as MP is caught in a battle that mirrors the larger tensions between his declared development agenda and the priorities of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
Modi’s publicly expressed wish to have a birthday for Jayapur, 30km from Varanasi town, has pitted the pro-BJP camp of local panchayat head Durga Devi against local Sangh boss Arvind Singh. The fight is over the date.
Devi’s camp feels it should be November 7, the day Modi visited and adopted the village under the Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana, which mandates every MP to adopt a village and develop it with the help of their local area funds.
But Arvind, a Jayapur resident and Sangh deputy district chief, wants a date linked to the Hindu religion: the post-Diwali Ekadashi (the auspicious 11th day of the lunar phase) that keeps changing year to year.
Arvind’s power to oppose the panchayat chief stems from the Sangh having informally “adopted” Jayapur in 2002 – ironically, the reason sometimes cited for Modi following suit. The Sangh association, though, has brought the backward village little apart from a shakha (daily training camp) and tulsi (basil) plants at every house.
“On November 7, the country and the world came to know of Jayapur. Who knew Jayapur before that day?” asked Narayan Patel, Devi’s brother-in-law who operates as the de-facto panchayat head, a post reserved for a backward-class woman here.
Arvind said: “Most villagers want the Ekadashi after Diwali, when the village hosts a fair and Ramlila, to be celebrated as the birthday. Jayapur is a 100 per cent Hindu village and its birthday should be associated with the religion.”
Modi had raised the matter of Jayapur’s birthday during his only trip to this village so far, which came nearly three months after he had announced the village adoption scheme for MPs during his Independence Day speech.
“When is Jayapur’s birthday, do you know?” Modi had asked the crowd.
After a pause, he had added: “Look through the records and find out when the village was officially recognised. If the records can’t be found, the villagers should decide a date.”
He had asked the entire village to get together and celebrate the birthday as an antidote to “casteism”.
Ironically, Modi’s request has unwittingly led to the opposite. The clash between Narayan and Arvind has split Jayapur’s opinion makers along caste lines, The Telegraph’s conversations with about a dozen prominent residents revealed.
Devi and Narayan are from the backward Kurmi caste, which accounts for half the village’s population of 4,000. Arvind is an upper caste Bhumihar.
Narayan accuses the landed upper castes of using the Sangh’s name to dictate terms to the backward castes who, he claims, delivered the BJP its huge victory in Uttar Pradesh this summer.
“My family and I have been associated with the BJP for many years,” Narayan said. “Before Arvind came on the scene, I used to organise the Sangh shakhas here. But I don’t want religion to come in the way of deciding Jayapur’s birthday.”
The tussle coincides with, and appears to echo, the broader disconnect between Modi’s vaunted development focus and some Sangh parivar outfits’ “re-conversion” programmes.
Many of Jayapur’s concrete houses and mud huts display the Sangh’s saffron flag, inscribed with “Om” in Hindi. Sangh shakhas are held regularly here.
Modi has claimed he chose Jayapur for adoption because, while campaigning in Varanasi before the election, he had heard how an overhead wire had snapped and killed five of its residents and the name had stuck in his memory.
“That was the first I’d heard of any particular village in my constituency and it quickly found a place in my heart,” he had said on November 7.
Narayan, though, claims part of the credit: “My sister-in-law had written to the Prime Minister to adopt Jayapur and he obliged us.”
He alleged that Arvind had formed a “development committee” in the village and was using it to announce his decisions bypassing the elected panchayat.
“It’s the elected members and not the Sangh body who must decide the date for the birthday,” he said. “Go and ask the villagers what development the Sangh has brought us these 12 years.”
Arvind claims that development happens in three stages: ” Kiran (the first rays), uday (sunrise) and kiran prabhat (morning with full sunshine).”
He says Jayapur is in the kiran phase. “We have given a tulsi plant to every household and asked people to plant fruit-bearing trees outside their homes,” he said.
“We have also asked the residents to own at least one cow. You can see that all the houses here have a tulsi and a cow.”
Asked about other basic facilities, he said this had to be done by the government.
The primary school building in Jayapur is crumbling, and the nearest high school is 3km away. The village has no primary health centre and gets only 6 to 8 hours of power. Barring one brick road, all the other roads in the village are kachha.