soniasarkar26

The name is Modi

Posted on: July 7, 2014

A little village in Manipur has pinned its hope on the new Prime Minister. Sonia Sarkar tells us why

WAITING FOR PM: Children in front of the village school
When Bebe Jackson heard about Narendra Modi — then just a prime ministerial candidate — he was intrigued. The 28-year-old Manipuri knew little about him because he had been working in Ghana for several years. Back in India, Jackson quickly did a background search on the Internet — but not because Modi seemed set to rule India. Jackson’s interest was triggered by the fact that his village was also called Modi.

“I started reading about him because I wanted to know if he had any connections with our village,” Jackson says. “I must say I was disappointed to discover that there was none.”

Village Modi in Manipur’s Chandel district is five kilometres from Chandel town. The village — inhabited by the Anal people of the Naga tribe — is surrounded by hills. A narrow lane, covered with pebbles, runs through the village, with single-storey wood houses on its two sides. The lane curves up to the village church, which is where the villagers meet to discuss social and political issues.

These days, Modi is the topic of discussion. The village of 253 Christians has been in a state of excitement ever since the 2014 elections were announced.

L. Hringam, who runs a grocery shop
“We are extremely happy that our village shares its name with the Prime Minister. Now we hope that the fate of our village will change,” says L. Hringam, 68. “We want him to visit us. We too want to see ‘achhe din’ (good days).”

Modi’s election slogan of better times is reiterated by the people of Modi, who have lived without basic facilities such as water and electricity all their lives. “The Chapki river is the source of drinking water and we use the same water for cleaning,” says 64-year-old R.T. Thintra, who runs the only grocery store of the village with her husband, Hringam.

The river itself is a cause of worry. The previous United Progressive Alliance government had proposed the construction of a dam for the Chapkimultipurpose hydroelectric project. “But our village will be submerged if this dam is constructed,” says P.S. Raylee, who joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) recently. “In fact, we would want Prime Minister Modi to stop this project. He should do something to save the village which bears his name,” he says.

Some of the villagers have been following Modi’s rise to power since he became the chief minister of Gujarat for the fourth time in 2012. “We used to joke that this man was making us proud by doing such good work in Gujarat,” says village chief K.L. John.

Modi’s name was heard more often as local BJP leaders started campaigning for the elections this spring. The thrill peaked when the party organised its first election rally in the state in Chandel. “The BJP never took so much interest in our district or our village before. But it was different in this election — they wanted to reach out to everyone,” John says.

Twenty men from the village attended a rally that Modi addressed in Imphal. Modi spoke of unemployment and corruption and promised to develop the state. Vastly impressed by his speech, 130 people of Modi voted for BJP, John says.

“For the first time, this village voted for the BJP,” says W.S. Kanral Anal, president of the Chandel Naga People’s Organisation. But Gangmumei Kamei, the BJP candidate of outer Manipur — the Lok Sabha Constituency of all hill districts including Chandel — lost the election to the sitting MP, Thangso Baite of the Congress.

Villagers on the steps of the Modi Baptist Church
The villagers now hope to make the most of their village name. Folklore has it that the village was set up in 1893 by a man called Pashel Modi, who also belonged to the Anal tribe. Village elders say that Modi and his wife, Nula Pethem, came in search of a new place when his own village became too crowded.

“Once he discovered this place, he named it after himself,” Thintra says.

This village has been a part of world history too. Elders in the village believe that some people spied for the Imperial Japanese Army in World War II, during the battle of Imphal.

Hringam’s grandfather was one of them. “My grandfather used to keep an eye on the British soldiers who hid in our village,” he says.

In 1946, an old bomb shell burst, killing seven villagers. “We also discovered a bunker in the village,” he adds.

But all that is history. Modi, the village, wants to move on. And that’s because it’s caught in a time warp.

Villagers mostly survive on the rice that they grow. Barely 10 families in the village have their own land; the others work in the paddy fields as daily wagers.

The villagers complain of unemployment, and about the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, which promises to give 100 days of work in a year. The people say they barely get 40 days of work and are mostly underpaid.

The young ones have been moving out of the village in search of jobs. Some have joined the Manipur police force or the army. Raylee, a graduate from Chandel’s United College, worked in a call centre in Delhi for a year, but came back to “do something” for his village.

At a tea stall
He and a few other men pooled in money to repair the rain ravaged state highway. Nobody from the government paid any heed to it, so the villagers say they decided to do it themselves.

“It took us more than a month to repair the road. But the village gets cut off from the rest of the world if this highway is not functional,” Raylee says.

PM Modi would like their sense of enterprise. In the late 60s, when the village didn’t have a school, the villagers set up their own primary school by hiring three teachers from nearby areas. But though the school got government recognition in 1971, the village children have to walk to Chandel town for secondary and higher secondary education.

Local teachers believe their students will have a brighter future if the village catches the attention of Modi. “Just as Modi scripted his own destiny — from being a tea seller to becoming PM — our children too can do that if he gives them what they deserve, which is good education,” teacher Totorani Khumlo says.

But will Modi visit the village? Some point out that local BJP leaders visited the village only once after the election results were announced. They promised water and electricity but have not been seen since then.

But then lack of development is the story of many villages across India. Even Modi’s neighbouring Lamphoupasna village, also inhabited by Anal tribals, is underdeveloped. “We feel a little jealous because we too voted for the BJP. If he gives a special package to Modi, we too should get a share,” demands Nita Khumlo, who is an assistant teacher at a school in Chandel town.

Village Modi, however, continues to pin its hopes on its namesake. “We want Modi to turn this into a model village,” Raylee says. “Then the name of the village will be justified.”

(Published in The Telegraph, July 6, 2014

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  • mamun ibne hussain: dont take it negatively but we are indian and our daughters should not follow the filthiest dirtiest horrible european and american womens the w
  • Susmita Saha: Memories truly have a special place in the treasure trove called life. And your memories shine like jewels in this piece.
  • saimi: That is a lovely one Sonia.. and I can relate to so many things that you mention ...
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