Ram Nath Kovind, Paraukh and the road to Raisina Hill

To the grassroots: Pyarelal, elder brother of NDA presidential nominee, Ram Nath Kovind, with his extended family members at their house at Paraukh in Kanpur Dehat, about 110 km from Kanpur, on Tuesday.   | Photo Credit: Rajeev Bhatt

In November 2001, when Ram Nath Kovind visited Paraukh, his ancestral village in Kanpur Dehat district of Uttar Pradesh, the dominant Thakurs and Brahmins decided to express their gratitude to the son of the soil.

They presented him with 12 precious mukuts (ceremonial crowns), 11 made of silver and one of gold.

Then a Rajya Sabha member from the Bharatiya Janata Party, Mr. Kovind, however, politely rejected the souvenirs. This came as no surprise to those who knew him. “That was typical of him: simple and selfless. He asked us to save the money and mukuts to fund the marriage of poor girls from the village,” fondly recalls Jaswant Singh, Mr. Kovind’s childhood friend.

Mr. Kovind’s visit more than 15 years ago is also memorable for other reasons. He inaugurated a common utility complex for residents to host marriage ceremonies, meetings or local administrative functions. The single-storey white plaster building, aptly named Milan Kendra, was constructed by him with his discretionary powers as an MP. But what made the building special was that it was built upon the ruins of Mr. Kovind’s ancestral house and dedicated to his father Maikulal, a landless Kori (Dalit) who ran a small kirana shop to support his family. Mr. Kovind donated the land to the community.

Steady journey

The house he was born in was a kuccha structure, which eventually collapsed. Since he and his immediate family had shifted to Delhi, Mr. Kovind thought it best to convert the space into a memorial. Today, the Milan Kendra is the most visible marker of the lawyer-turned-politician’s deep relationship with his roots. In fact, for Paraukh, Mr. Kovind’s nomination is not only a matter of joy and pride but also the peak of his quiet yet steady journey from one of U.P.’s most neglected regions to the potential seat of Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Mr. Kovind, born in 1945, was the youngest of five sons (he also had two sisters). But tragedy struck early in Mr. Kovind’s life. He was only five when his mother died of burns when their thatched dwelling caught fire.

The personal loss, along with shortcomings in the availability of resources, made it a hard task to acquire education. Raj Kishore Singh, a retired teacher, went to school with Mr. Kovind. The two boys received primary education in the village school along with other village children. But since there were no facilities for higher studies, they had to travel each day to Khanpur village, six kilometres away, to attend junior school. “We walked because, back then, the village hardly had roads and nobody here had a bicycle,” remembers Raj Kishore Singh.

Although he always kept a low profile, Mr. Kovind has had a steady march up in his political career, which started in 1991, culminating with his appointment to the post of Bihar’s Governor a couple of years ago. His political success has altered the infrastructure of his native village.

Giving back

Over the years, under Mr. Kovind’s patronage, Paraukh was connected to the nearest brick-kiln by a link road, an RCC road was constructed, four power tube wells were installed, an inter college was set up after Dalit icon Jhalkari Bai, the boundary wall of the junior school was built, and a branch of the State Bank of India was opened in the heart of the village.

“He took upon himself to repay the debt to his janmabhoomi (birthplace). All the development took place only after Dadaji became MP,” says Niki Kovind, a final year B.A. student and one of Mr. Kovind’s many younger relatives still living in the village. Those close to him not only describe Mr. Kovind as a simple, social and humble person but they also talk fondly of his religious nature and knowledge.

Shyam Mohan Dubey, a close aide and BJP member, says Mr. Kovind knows the Ramayana by heart.

Mr. Kovind, perhaps, inherited this part of his character from his father who was also known to be religious. “Maikulal would feed Brahmins while also distribute books with the chants of Ram Ram among children. It was his wish that a temple be built in the village and it was done after his death. He would an expert with ayurvedic herbs and treated villagers for free,” says Raj Kishore Singh.

Despite, Mr. Kovind’s interventions, Paraukh still has a lot to look forward to in terms of development. Its medical infrastructure is in shambles. A hospital started to come up in 2011 but it was never completed. The nearest medical facility is in Derapur, 10 km away, but it provides only basic aid. For proper treatment, villagers have to travel 35 km to the district hospital in Kanpur.

Power supply is irregular. A light wind or heavy rain shuts down supply, residents complain. “If a transformer malfunctions, it’s like a nightmare, as it takes 15 days for it to get repaired, that too after paying bribes,” says Rahul Singh, a civil service aspirant.

Migration is high and labour and farmer are the primary source of livelihood. But irrigation facilities are not sufficient. Years of falling groundwater levels have fuelled a water crisis. “The village badly needs a water tank. The wells have dried over the past three or four years. Drinking water remains a problem. We hope and request Kovindji to open a factory here so that our employment issues are addressed,” says Jaswant Singh.

Amit Singh Bhadauria, 20, joined the Army a year ago. He says the village lacks opportunities to study or places to train. “The only ground, the field at the primary school, has no place to play. Animals stray on it. We can’t even draw a proper track for practice,” he says.

The last time Mr. Kovind visited the village was on December 8, 2016. Ranbir Singh, a farmer, was among the crowd that day as Mr. Kovind asked villagers to keep patience when they bombarded him with demands and appeals. “Things will improve gradually, he told us. ‘I am Bihar Governor but I will appeal to the UP CM to address your grievances,’ he told us,” says Ranbir Singh.

Mr. Kovind’s immediate family lives with him in Delhi and Patna. His surviving brother Pyarelal and the deceased Shivbalak Ram’s families live in Jhinjhak town, some 30 km from Paraukh. Another brother is based in Guna in Madhya Pradesh.

Hemlata Kovind, the daughter of Shivbalak Ram, is ecstatic at the prospect of her uncle becoming the President. “He was always of a friendly nature. He taught us never to seek rewards but to toil selflessly. The fruits will come, he would say. Perhaps god heard him,” says Hemalata.

Sixty-km away from Paraukh, in Kanpur’s Kalyanpur, is situated Mr. Kovind’s current residence in U.P. “Sada jeevan uccha vichar (simple life, lofty ideals),” says Pradeep Rathod, the caretaker of the bungalow, describing Mr. Kovind’s virtues. “His behaviour has not changed over the years. Each time he comes here he speaks to us like a family member. There are no political statements,” said Mr. Rathod.

Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Oct 24, 2021 4:27:58 AM |

Next Story