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Air and star power for CM village

Saifai (Etawah), Sept. 4: Even 15 years ago, miles of dusty, cow dung-spattered roads stretched through the middle of nowhere. With 15-odd families, the village could have been passed off as a semblance of human settlement.

Today, it has got an airstrip, which is being upgraded, a substation, stadium, telephone exchange, health centre, bank and a college named after actor Amitabh Bachchan.

From a nondescript hamlet, Saifai has grown into a bustling urban centre. It has also emerged as a new political battleground in Uttar Pradesh.

Saifai’s spectacular development has triggered accusations of bias because it happens to be the village where chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav was born.

The Congress, which supports his government, says the Samajwadi Party chief has pampered his birthplace and Etawah, the district where it is situated, ignoring the rest of the state.

At the entry point to the village, where Mulayam Singh reportedly began his “samajwadi movement”, is a bus stand followed by a police station and a branch of Punjab National Bank. As one enters, one crosses the substation, a three-storey white building that houses the tehsil offices, a PWD guesthouse and the health centre. On the left of the road that twists away towards the airstrip is another new two-storey square building.

It is the Amitabh Bachchan Rajkiya Inter College, perhaps the only government college named after the star. An open ground stages a cultural show every year in which filmstars from Mumbai participate.

While all districts in the state, including Lucknow, face severe power cuts, Saifai has been spared. “We thank the chief minister for uninterrupted power supply,” says Amar Yadav, a resident of the village, which now has a population of about 4,500.

The 20-km road from Etawah town that connects Saifai could beat the best in the state. Flanked by rows of greenery, it passes through Haura, a village where the government is building a state-of-the-art college.

When work on the college, named after former Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh, began five years ago on a small plot, few noticed it. But during the last year, it acquired more land.

The college, barely 2 km from Saifai, will soon have new academic wings and several well-equipped laboratories, including one for research on applied psychology.

Mulayam Singh has released Rs 31 crore for the college. Though the college does not actually fall under Saifai, it is believed to be part of the package for the area.

Congress spokesman Akhilesh Singh, who released a copy of the fund-sanctioning letter to reporters recently, said the chief minister was depriving other colleges as this one was being built by his family — Mulayam Singh’s brother Ram Gopal Yadav is a member of the college management.

“We would ask the chief minister what is the sin of other colleges that they are being deprived of funds. Some colleges have very poor infrastructure and need to be upgraded,” he says.

Ram Gopal says the chief minister has released funds for a college being built in memory of the messiah of farmers and the Congress has “no business slinging mud”.

But what has sparked the latest row is the release of Rs 45 crore for upgrading the airstrip, 9 km from Saifai.

At a briefing last month, state principal secretary Neera Yadav said the amount was being released to enlarge the runway and improve facilities. At present, chartered planes and helicopters land on the airstrip.

Critics have questioned the need for improving facilities. “Is this (the airstrip) being upgraded so that film stars from Mumbai can visit Saifai for the annual show'” asks S.P. Maurya, a senior Bahujan Samaj Party leader.

The government is also beautifying a pond in the village at a cost of Rs 2.28 crore. Officials say the plan is to attract tourists. “But what kind of tourists are expected to come to Saifai located near the dacoit badlands'” asks a BJP leader.

But Samajwadi Party leaders are undeterred. They say if the Congress can build a city out of Rae Bareli and Amethi — the constituencies of Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul — what is Mulayam Singh’s sin'

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