The Rameshwar Mahadev Temple, situated on the banks of the Ganga - which shimmers under the sweltering sun - cuts a deserted picture in Daundia Khera village on Wednesday afternoon. The nondescript village of less than 3,000 inhabitants caught headlines last year after the Archaeological Survey of India conducted a massive gold excavation to retrieve 1,000 tonnes of gold at the dilapidated fort of Raja Rao Ram Bux Singh here.
Prominent archaeologists criticised the ASI for wasting resources and following the wrong procedure. After much hype, the ASI could unearth only a few pieces of pottery, terracotta beads, two bone points, a few broken glass bangles and some iron nails.
The residents of Daundia Khera were left disappointed and seer Shobhan Sarkar, who had a dream of a hidden treasure in the fort following which the exercise was taken up by the ASI, became the subject of national ridicule. Around 1.5 kilometres away from the excavation site, Nagendra Pratap Singh, an unemployed youth, has just stepped outside the polling booth after casting his vote. “The government didn’t dig according to the procedure explained by Baba, so how could the gold be retrieved,” he defends the seer.
His sentiment is largely shared across the village as the locals’ faith in Sarkar is unrelenting, despite criticism from outside. Mr. Singh is soon joined by Ram Srivat, a retired Railways employee. “There is nothing in this village. We had hoped that the digging and media attention would bring us some change. But things are still the same,” Mr. Srivat says.
Seven months on not much has changed in this village, just off the Grand Trunk Road in Unnao district. Locals still live with the hope that the gold can be retrieved some day and change their lives. Their hope hinges on the faith in Sarkar, who is believed to have “miraculous healing powers”.
But Daundia Khera has other grievances, some much more urgent. The village faces an acute power shortage and has poor roads. The educational and health infrastructure is also not in good shape. “We rarely get a total power supply of more than 10 hours per day. Last night (eve of polling day), we had power supply for the entire time. We don’t remember the last time we had power the whole night,” said Ummat Ali, a labourer.
The latest of their problems seems to a spate of robberies. Residents attribute it to the poor law and order situation under the SP government. The village, lying on the bank of the Ganga, provides an easy escape route for robber gangs which operate from the neighbouring district, Fatehpur. Observers view the sitting Congress MP Anu Tandon as the frontrunner in the election, but in this village she doesn’t garner much support. Mahendra Singh, a young Thakur who works in a private company, believes that a change in political leadership will do the village much good. He pitches his support for Narendra Modi, the BJP prime ministerial candidate. “We want change. We don’t care what he did in Gujarat,” said Mr. Singh.