This minister in Uttar Pradesh government is an example of honesty and simplicity. He and his family are still living in a hut. Recently, his house (hut) got demolished due to heavy rains causing loss of over Rs. One lakh. He and his family removed the debris and recovered their belongings from the rubble themselves. When revenue staff reached the village, the minister refused to take their help and the family is rebuilding the hut themselves.
A board in the red and green colours of the Samajwadi Party with his name and contact number now stands among mango and bel trees in Chahalwa village of Uttar Pradesh’s Bahraich district, just in front of a series of huts with thatched roofs.
That’s the only indication that here resides Banshidhar Baudh, the 59-year-old newly inducted Minister of State, Social Welfare and SC/ST Welfare, in the Akhilesh Yadav government.
The Dalit MLA from the reserved constituency of Balha and his family of nine have lived in these five huts for the past four decades.
The whole Tedhiya hamlet, barely 10 km from the Nepal border, is made of wooden huts. The village is a van gram (forest village) and no brick structure can be made there. It was allotted to Baudh by the government like to most other landless Dalit families in the village.
“None of the houses has toilets. We too go to the fields to relieve ourselves,” says Baudh’s son Awan Kumar, adding that Chahalwa got electricity only after his father became an MLA.
Sweeping one of the huts the family uses to sleep in, lifting the edges of a mosquito net, Baudh’s wife Lajjawati smiles at the suggestion that they may soon move to Lucknow. “What would I do in Lucknow? That house is for a few days and not for a lifetime,” she says.
Baudh’s hut, with its old tin door, stands out for the photographs of SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, Akhilesh and Gautam Buddha stuck outside.
The security personnel who accompanied him from Lucknow on his first trip back to the village after appointment as minister have no place to sleep. So they have been sent to a government guest house in Girijapuri, about 4 km away.
The inclusion of Baudh among the 12 new members inducted by Akhilesh last week had come as a surprise. However, headed into the 2017 elections, his importance as a Dalit leader with a BSP background is clear. While Baudh joined the SP only over a year back, he has had a 20-year association with the BSP.
Once a labourer, Baudh worked at the Postal Department for a few months in the early 1980s as a temporary employee. “After I gave up that job, I started a bicycle repair shop in Girijapuri, which also did not earn much. So I started work at a government firm as a watchman in 1986,” he says.
Baudh says it is because he is so poor that he continues to live in huts with his wife, five sons and two daughters-in-law. But the villagers say no one can build a brick house on forest land.
While he says he is educated up to Class X, his election affidavit said he is “literate (home-schooled)”. Baudh declared immovable property worth Rs 22 lakh in the affidavit, including agricultural land allotted to him by the government near Ghaghra river, and movable assets of Rs 1.22 lakh, apart from liabilities of Rs 1.28 lakh.
The realisation that he is now a minister is taking time to sink in. As Baudh fields congratulatory calls, he still introduces himself as “Balha MLA”.
When the call came from Akhilesh for the ministry offer, Baudh rushed to Lucknow borrowing an SUV of a friend.
With the change in Baudh’s profile, Balha expects things to improve. Most of the hamlets here still don’t have power.
“Besides, there is no college, and the nearest hospital is in Mihipurwa, 40 km away. There are no roads,” says Rajendra, the husband of the village pradhan.
While Baudh insists he has been working hard, there are signs of growing resentment. His daughter-in-law lost in the zila panchayat polls.