ByÂ Madhav Gupta:
In the year 2007, during summer vacation I happened to visit my friend’s village. This village was just too small and population was also very minimal at some 500-odd people.
Name of the Village- Halka
State- Jammu & Kashmir
Sarpanch- Shri. Devi Dass Gupta.
I stayed in this village for over a month. My friend’s grandfather was the Sarpanch of the village and he had held that position for the last 40 years. He would usually win by 90%+ votes every time. At first I didn’t find this a very big achievement, knowing that the Sarpanch usually belonged to the ‘royal’ families of these villages; so, it’s quite obvious that people would elect him as the Sarpanch.
After knowing this history, I was quite intrigued by this man and wanted to meet him and know about his journey. The journey of the undefeated Sarpanch. My very first meeting with him took me by surprise due to his appearance. He was of below-average height, wasn’t well built in contrast to his grandson, who was a by-product of “desi-ghee”, his wardrobe was very ordinary- basically he had nothing fancy or even something that would show that he is a ‘proper royal man’.
But this man would speak only in Urdu and the way he spoke made people have a blind faith in him. He was a true aurator who took people by charm and grace. He would speak in a low tone, eloquently with a very sophisticated use of words.
But all I wanted to know was how this man could not be defeated even once in the last 40 years? Why could this village not find somebody of a better calibre? So, I went on to meet people and asked about him and his family. And the results were just astonishing;
The village didn’t have any hospital till 2002, so the Sarpanch himself would take the injured or sick guy on his own to the hospital located in the city (which is 23km far), and get them treated (thanks to his contacts). He also got Rajiv Gandhi to visit the village but never made un-authenticated use of his powers. Among his many accomplishments, he didn’t let any factory set-up as it could have harmed the farmers; started 3 schools in this village on his own, 2 of them later got government grants. He got the village youth educated about agricultural sciences, whereas he himself is just a class 7th pass; the first temple in the village was built by him, that too in 2004.
Caste and creed don’t hold any value for him (70% SC-ST). And he had the zamindari system abolished by fighting with his own brother (who has now moved to the city).
Every day in the evening people come to his house, tell him about the problems and he has no bureaucracy set in his village. Every time people come, a “desi chai” and biscuits are ready for them.
After doing all this, he did stand for MLA elections in the mid 90’s but lost badly. The reason was that the population of his village was only a very small fraction of the whole district and he was not getting into the business of minting money, but in the business of service. But that fight didn’t let his morale down and he is still serving the village very selflessly in a dedicated fashion.
His family is not rich the way they used to be, business has reduced. And when asked about his family, Mr. Devi Dass looked around the village and replied calmly with a smile on his face, “This is my family”.