Sangh pressure forces Minority Affairs Minister to not adopt village with strong Muslim presence

By Mohd Ismail Khan,,

Bhopal: When Najma Heptullah, one of the senior most cabinet ministers in the Narendra Modi government adopted village Phanda Kalan near here in a dazzling show under Pradhan Mantri Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojna, it looked like just another flamboyance of Prime Minister’s much publicized scheme.

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But dig a little deeper and finding what went behind selection of this village gives an interesting insight into how Muslims, even one of the supposedly powerful ones such as a Central minister, are insignificant in the saffron circles. While Heptullah could not be contacted, her nephew said just because she is a Minority Affairs Minister, does not compel her to choose a minority concentrated village.

Kolu Kheda

Heptullah, the Union Minority Affairs minister, had on November 27 officially adopted Phanda Kalan, 23 km from here. When the glossy ceremony of adoption was going on, villagers in Kolu Khedi village – which still has Heptullah’s ancestral home – were in agony, feeling left off. The dusty village with sizeable Muslim concentrated population claims it was not adopted “apparently because Sangh did not find its demography suitable.”

Mohd Rayees, sarpanch of Kolu Khedi village, claimed it was his village that was shortlisted first for adoption by Heptullah’s office but later dropped. “Three officers from Najma Appa’s Delhi office came here three months ago. I took them around whole village, they inspected roads, drainage and Anganwadi works. They promised finalization of adoption soon. But 15 days ago, we got the news that she adopted the neighboring village, completely ditching us at the last moment after giving lot of hope.”

Rayees claimed Heptullah still visits their village once in a year and in the past she also endeavored to construct a cement road connecting to her ancestral land to the main highway.

When asked why she chose another, the Sarpanch laments the feelings the whole village has, “Only Sharma ji knows because he has taken her to Phanda.” ‘Sharmaji’being the local MLA Rameshwar Sharma.

Kolu Kheda

A senior functionary of the Madhya Pradesh BJP’s Alapsankhyak Morcha (minority wing), on condition of anonymity, said that “local MLA of Huzur constituency Rameshwer Shrama allegedly pressurized Heptullah using influence from CM’s office to withdraw her decision of adopting her native Muslim concentrated village. And then the PMSAGY scheme was shifted to the neighboring village, which is completely sanitized of any ‘M’ presence.”

Locals said among the 4000 population, there are only three Muslim houses in Phanda Kalan, that too of migrant workers whereas in Kolu Khedi village, more than 35 % of the 3,000 population are Muslim.

The BJP minority wing leader, who was apparently frustrated on the state of affairs of Muslims in his party, told, “A central cabinet minister has to toe the line of a local politician. Imagine the condition we work in the party!”

Ms. Heptullah's ancestral farm land in Kolu Khedi
Ms. Heptullah’s ancestral farm land in Kolu Khedi

Sharma was recently in the news for organizing protest meetings to demand a ban on Muslims from entering Garba dances and had even reportedly issued a statement suggesting Muslims should be made to drink cow urine if they insist on participating in Hindu festival/celebrations.

Villagers at Kolu Khedi argue their case not just on the basis of their relation with Heptullah but also on the fact that their village is far underdeveloped than Phanda Kalan. A visit to both – the adopted Phanda Kalan village and orphaned Kolu Khedi – gives a clear picture on who deserved more.

Kolu Khedi is a sandwiched between a wild lake and tinder fields, it doesn’t have proper roads and a drainage system, there are open sewage lines in front of every house and there is a single primary school that Kolu Khedi can cheer for.

Ms. Najma Heptullah along with MLA Rameshwar Sharma at village adoption ceremony.
Ms. Najma Heptullah along with MLA Rameshwar Sharma at village adoption ceremony

On contrast, Phanda Kalan – located between the main National Highway and Sehore city bypass – is a business center as claimed by its own locals. It has a hospital, four primary schools, one high school and a 500-metre stretch market, according to Phanda’s Block development officer. If Heptullah has her way than the village will soon have Women’s college, Agriculture Technology College, Gobar gas Plant and food packaging and organic farming industry.

A tea vendor Pawan said Phanda is a block level village while Kolu Khedi is a gramin village. “She should have given preference to her ancestral village as it is more in need of development, but you know it’s all local politics involved,” Javed Khan, another local echoed Pawan’s sentiment.

Open drain infront of primary school
Open drain infront of primary school

Altamash Ali, state BJP leader and Heptullah’s nephew confirmed Kolu Khedi is indeed her ancestral village and land belonging to her father late Syed Yusuf Ali still exists there. But in the same breath, he argues “all villages are same for her.”

Ali confirmed that Heptullah had chosen the Phanda village, which (local MLA Rameshwer) Sharma had suggested. “Sharma had gone to Delhi and suggested villages, from which she has chosen this village, which required more development,” he added.

Panchayat point.
Panchayat point

When asked about minority population in the adopted village, Ali replied “it’s not substantial” and added that “being Minority Affairs Minister does not compel her to choose a minority concentrated village.”

“This village was adopted in the capacity of her Rajya Sabha membership; it has nothing to do with her Ministry. It was her personal choice, not a ministerial decision,” he added.

But villagers at Heptullah’s ancestral village are not buying that official argument and have already made up their mind to confront her. “Whenever she visits our village, we will definitely question her why she deserted her own villagers as orphans and adopted others?”