Anger At Governance Failures In 3 ‘Model’ Villages In Modi’s Constituency Point To His Diminished Popularity

13 Jun 2024 12 min read  Share

As Narendra Modi’s winning margin fell from 479,505 in 2019 to 150,000 in 2024, we travelled to three villages ‘adopted’ by the Prime Minister—meant to become adarsh or ‘ideal’ villages—in his parliamentary constituency and found clues to his diminished popularity: widespread administrative failures, allegations of corruption and caste discrimination in the implementation of his government’s flagship programmes for housing and water.

Anita Devi & her husband Ramesh Chauhan display a receipt for Rs 400, which they paid for an application form to get a house under the Prime Minister’s Housing Programme. They filled at least six applications over three years, filling a new one when they never heard back about the previous application. All houses were supposed to be built by 2022/ JIGYASA MISHRA

Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh: “At least five times in the past seven years I have applied for a pakka (permanent) house but haven’t got one. Nothing has happened for me in Modi’s tenure. Come, see where I live.” 

A frail Sarsatti Devi, in her seventies, was angry as she spoke to Article 14 in her village of Domri in the Varanasi parliamentary constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, 7.6 km east of the Hindu holy city of the same name. 

“Is this how an aadarsh gaaon (ideal village) looks?” asked Sarsatti Devi, who voted for Modi in 2014 and 2019 but switched her vote to the Congress in 2024. 

Heaps of trash were scattered through the village, and there were no sewers, except in some lanes built by the village pradhan or headman about 10 years ago. 

The waste from many homes is dumped in a corner of the village while the rest is discarded “here and there,” said Sarsatti Devi. 

A model village, according to three of the 13 programme guidelines, should have pucca or permanent houses for all those below the poverty line living in kuchcha or semi-built homes, drinking water, preferably treated piped water with household taps, and all-weather roads bounded by covered drains.

Home to about 1,500 people, Domri was the fourth of eight villages “adopted” by Narendra Modi in early 2018, four years after he first became a member of Parliament (MP) and announced the Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (SAGY) or the MP’s ideal village programme. 

The programme converges a variety of existing union and state resources. In 2021, Modi’s government told Parliament that Rs 6,000 crore had been donated to the SAGY via corporate social responsibility funds, but it kept no record of this money.

Under the SAGY, each MP is responsible for developing physical and institutional infrastructure in three villages by 2019. The target was later increased to five villages by 2024.

Devi’s complaints were mirrored elsewhere, as we travelled through Modi’s constituency, providing a clue to the lowest winning margin ever by a Prime Minister, and why his party came in second in Uttar Pradesh, winning 33 of 80 seats compared to 71 in 2014 and 62 in 2019. 

Locals in three model villages we visited, variously alleged caste bias, corruption, non-functional government scheme implementations, bureaucratic lethargy and water woes as reasons for these failures. 

In Domri, SAGY appeared to have fallen victim to bureaucratic definitions.   

“I don’t look after urban areas and have requested the government to remove Domri from the model village [scheme], as it has been converted into a nagar nigam (municipality) from gram panchayat (village council) in 2019,” said Himanshu Nagpal of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), the chief development officer for Varanasi and head of the SAGY for the district.

But locals said they had applied before Domri was converted into an urban area.

Sarsatti Devi at her leaking one-room home in the village of Domri in Narendra Modi’s constituency, as she waits for a new one under the Prime Minister’s Housing Programme. Over seven years, she has applied five times, unsuccessfully, thanks to bureaucratic confusion over the village’s municipal status/JIGYASA MISHRA

The urban version of the PM’s housing programme was supposed to have provided homes to all eligible urban poor by 2022, when India completed 75 years of independence.

Sarsatti Devi, a Dalit, said her husband died 10 years ago in an “accident”. Her younger son succumbed to tuberculosis at 27. She has one more son who drives a tractor-trolley and provides her food, but does not live with her.

“Now I live on my own, in this chaardeewari (four walls) with a leaking roof,” said Sarsatti Devi. “Every monsoon I get it covered with plastic.” 

She pointed to a toilet built under the Swachh Bharat Mission in 2016, “They got my toilet made, then why not a house?” The central government provided subsidies for the construction of nearly 95 million toilets between 2014 and 2019 nationwide. 

Homes: Not Delivered

Launched in 2015, the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) or Prime Minister’s Housing Programme—a renamed version of the Indira Awas Yojana launched in 1985—was supposed to provide each Indian in rural areas with a home in 2022. 

It was a promise the Modi government first made in 2015 and repeated in 2018. His most recent promise was on 10 June 2024, after he was elected to a third term.

PMAY-U guidelines says homes in 500 cities nationwide were to be completed by phase-III of the scheme, which ended in 2022.

In Domri, about 200 homes were built under the PMAY-Urban or PMAY-U, but dozens of people who paid Rs 400 for an application form for a pakka or solid home said they had filled the same form almost every six months over the past three years, and there was no sign of a house.

“I would request a list of applicants who have nor received a residence yet,” Shweta Raj, the city mission manager of the District Urban Development Authority (DUDA), told Article 14. “Maybe most of them are not eligible for one."

Yet, all those we spoke to said the agency contracted by DUDA to help applicants had repeatedly urged them to fill new applications and taken a Rs-400 fee each time

Anita Devi, 38, is one of those who filled the application form (for PMAY) every six months in the past three years. 

“See, this is the receipt we got after paying Rs 400, at least six times. I dont have every receipt though,” said Anita Devi, 38, a homemaker and wife of a driver, Ramesh Chauhan, displayed a receipt issued in December 2023 by ‘KDS Services Pvt Ltd’, the agency hired by DUDA to help applicants. 

The receipt reads, “Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Shehri) poornatah nishulk hai. Yadi koi aap se paisa mangta hai to DUDA Karyalay, Varanasi mein shikayat karein! The PMAY-U scheme is completely free and if someone asks for money, complain about it to the DUDA office in Varanasi”.

Shweta Raj confirmed that KDS Services was indeed hired to help PMAY-U applications, “but whoever took Rs 400 from these people needs to be named, and we can take action against this”. She said applicants “must ask for an ID card when someone demands money for a free government scheme”. 

“We are not alone,” said Anita Devi. “Some 15 or more families here gave this amount to get our forms filled. We need the house. It is difficult to live in one room with four children.” 

We talked to Anita Devi at 7:30 am, as her three older daughters shared a cot outside the house. The youngest sleeps with her parents, both labourers. Anita Devi and her husband live in the mud-and-brick one-room house that shelters the family of six.

In Parampur, another village adopted by Modi, 13 km west of Varanasi city, we met Bela Rajbhar outside her rough one-room hut, built eight years ago of mud and cow dung. 

“I never got an awaas (home) despite applying thrice,” said Bela Rajbhar, 76, a widow with one son, daughter-in-law and two grandsons. She has no income and depends on her son, Anil Rajbhar, a farmer. 

Scheduled Castes Allege Bribe Demands

Most of the 11 residents that we spoke to, who did not get the homes Modi promised, are scheduled castes. Many deserted him and voted for the Opposition in the 2024 general elections.

They were neglected, they said, and accused officials of demanding bribes to be made a part of the PMAY. 

“Why else do you think we are not given a house?” said Dashrath Rajbhar, 47, a Dalit peon at a private firm in Varanasi, who alleged that officials from the Patel community, an other backward caste (OBC), favour their own people.

“Otherwise, me, who has applied seven or eight times, would have got a house by now,” said Dashrat Rajbhar, who made these applications over six years. “Isiliye itna vote mila hai, kaam kiye hote to aur vote milta.”

Dashrath Rajbhar was referring to the reduced number of votes for Modi, saying he would have got more if he had worked for them. 

Bela Rajbhar with her grandson in their hut in Parampur, Varanasi, awaits a house under the Prime Minister’s Housing Programme. The deadline for providing homes for all eligible Indians was 2022/ JIGYASA MISHRA

Election Commission data show that Modi’s margin went from 370,000 in 2014 to 480,000 in 2019 to 150,000 votes this time against his closest rival, Ajay Rai of the Congress party, his lowest ever. 

The margin drop came despite an 8% increase in registered voters in 2014 from 2019. A 6th June Hindustan Times analysis showed Modi’s vote share fell 9.4% in the 2024 general elections.

Water: No Supply

On 15 August 2019, Modi announced the Jal Jeevan Mission from Delhi’s Red Fort. With a budget of Rs 50,011 crore, it is meant to connect every rural home to piped drinking water by 2024. 

While the mission has reported widespread progress, there is evidence that many who were connected to piped water no longer are. 

Nearly 4.76 lakh habitations earlier covered by the programme slipped to “partially covered” or “no safe source” categories, says a September 2023 report from the Impact and Policy Research Institute, a think tank based in New Delhi.

In Modi’s constituency, we found many who never have been connected to piped water.

Just 1.5 km from Varanasi’s Banaras Hindu University, Bhagwanpur, a former village recently converted into a nagar panchayat, has no water supply. 

“We never have had water supply,” said Om Prakash, 21, from an OBC community, as he hauled water from a well. “Those who could afford it have dug a borewell and get unlimited water, while others like us,” he said, “We are solely dependent on this well.” 

Om Prakash, a college student from Bhagwanpur in the parliamentary constituency of Varanasi hauls water from a well, as he does every evening. In the mornings, his parents fetch water. Om and family live a kilometer away from Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi city/ JIGYASA MISHRA

“They talk about the development of the temple city, villages, ghaats but what about this place?” said Prakash, referring to the multi-billion redevelopment of Varanasi. “We are in the main city.”

Some 200 meters inside Parampur village, lives Subhadra Devi who complains of poor water supply. 

“I have got a tap installed, but the force of water is so slow that a bucket takes half an hour to be filled completely,” said the 74-year-old Subhadra  Devi, who lives with her husband, son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren. A farm family, they earn barely Rs 10,000 per month.

Based on a 2021 unpublished study on implementation, Ruby Sarkar, a researcher and guest faculty at Makhanlal Chaturvedi University, Bhopal, said most schemes in rural India struggled unless nonprofit organisations were involved, and there was public pressure.”

For instance, a very common problem in the Jal Jeevan Mission’s implementation, said Sarkar, is that taps are fitted and marked as a target achieved. “But do they care to go back and ask the residents if they are getting the water supply?”

‘He Let Us Down’

In 2014, Modi launched the rural Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), a renamed and expanded version of the 2013 Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan. The SBM intended to make India free of open defecation by 2019 by constructing toilets in every rural household. 

The aim was to take the proportion of toilets in rural homes from 39% in 2014 to 100% by 2019. On 2 October 2019, Modi declared India free of open defecation. 

In Parampur, Bela Rajbhar, quoted earlier in this story, said she lived next to a son’s hut and used his five-member family’s toilet or izzat ghar (literally, honour house), placed atop a soak-pit which, the family said, must be cleaned by hand when it fills up every year. 

“The scheme has not been handed over completely in Parampur yet,” said CDO Nagpal. “The target for the village we have is the end of 2024, which is when you can expect everything implemented there.”

“When the PM announced he was adopting our village (in 2017), we got a ray of hope,” said Santosh Prajapati, 29, a 2015 National Games judo player who lives in Kakrahiya, the third village Modi adopted. 

“We had huge dreams, which were actually basic necessities for our children’s development and the country’s name,” said Prajapati, “But he (Modi) let us down.”

A village of 2,000, Kakrahiya is 10 km west of Varanasi city, the majority of its people being OBC Patels and Dalit Rajbhars. 

The village is famous for its century old akhaada or wrestling ground and besides Santosh, approximately 80 players practice kushti or wrestling at Kakrahiya Akhaada from 5 in the morning, every day.

“This building you see here was constructed in 2004. After that, we have not received even a brick from this government or our MP,” said Prajapati. “The gram pradhan says he has no budget but he gets everything he wishes to done.”

“We lack toilets, a wrestling mat, 24-hour water supply and even a changing room where our girl players can change their soiled clothes or even urinate,” said Prajapati. “They keep themselves thirsty so that they can avoid the pressure but who cares that they are aiming to make India proud?” 

Gram pradhan Pooja, who uses only one name, said she had “no clue about anything” and only her husband, Suraj, would be able to comment. 

“See, I have taken up the position from 2021, before that Manoj Singh was in charge of allocating the budget for the akhada,” said Suraj. Manoj Singh refused to comment when we called him. 

CDO Nagpal said they had a budget of Rs 24 crore for SAGY and had requested every gram pradhan to share their plans.

“But I received nothing about the Kakrahiya akhada,” said Nagpal. “I believe it is not government but private land, so we would not be responsible to construct any toilet there in that case.” 

Ustad Ravindra Singh, the local wrestling coach, said the land belonged to the government. 

“I don’t have a coach’s degree,” said Ravindra Singh. “It has come down to me from my forefathers. My great grandfather began this akhada and trained the people, then my grandfather, father and now I try to do the same, without charging anyone, any money.” 

A Pension Not Paid

Tapesari Chauhan, an 80 year-old widow, lives with a defective eye and without any government assistance in Domri, even though she is eligible for an old-age pension.

Through the department of social welfare, the UP government runs the Vriddhavastha Pension Yojana or the elderly pension scheme, a state programme which provides people over 60 years of age, who have yearly income of Rs 46,080 or less in rural areas and Rs 56,460 in urban areas Rs 500 per month every three months. 

The programme went online from 2014. Tapesari Chauhan, who lost her husband about three decades ago, has never gone online. 

“I used to get vriddha pension but it has stopped now, for over a year,” she said. “My grand-son gives me roti to survive, that’s how I live.” 

Tapesari is also eligible for a UP government pension programme for widows, the Nirashrit Mahila Pension. This scheme makes women who have lost their husbands eligible for Rs 500 per month.

“I only look after Vriddha Pension,” said a local government official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “If you share their Adhar card, bank details and the application proof, I will get it done in no time.”  

(Jigyasa Mishra is an award-winning independent journalist and an artist.)

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