Located near Chakwal, Gah Begal was once declared a model village during the tenure of former president Pervez Musharraf. About 2,000 people reside in this 228-home village in the Pakistani province of Punjab. This also happens to be the childhood home of Manmohan Singh, the current Prime Minister of India.
In an exclusive interview with Dawn.com, a Gah Primary School teacher, Ghulam Murtaza, proudly displayed Singh’s report cards from the second and third grade. The school’s admission register showed that Singh was enrolled in grade 1, his serial number being 187. Murtaza’s father also happened to be a class-mate of Singh.
“Teaching at this school is a matter of dual pride for me because my father was a fellow of Singh here,” Murtaza said.
The Model Village
Even though the village still lacks electricity and gas, it witnessed rapid development during the previous government’s era. Officials from the Energy Resource Institute of India came to Gah for a visit on the directives of Singh. They installed solar street lights, distributed solar lanterns to every family, installed solar geysers, bio-gas plants and dry wood gasification system for mass cooking. Indian engineers also set a geyser for the small mosque of the village.
However, Pakistani experts still have not played any role in generating alternative energy. It is also unfortunate that the smokeless wood gasification system in the village has not been working and no Pakistani authority has so far shown any interest in fixing it.
The former Nazim, Raja Ashiq Hussain, revealed to us a letter from Singh, composed and signed in Urdu in which the Indian prime minister wrote about the developmental schemes for his birthplace.
Hussain also visited India with a Pakistani delegation to observe the local government system of India.
Before independence, Gah was the center of economic activity triggered by Hindu and Sikh businessmen who made up around 50 per cent of the total population, while the rest were Muslims. It was then considered a far more important town than Chakwal.
When riots erupted just after the independence, local villagers provided protection to Hindu and Sikh women but a handful of looters from outside, took over the property of non-Muslims. It was also most unfortunate that Singh’s home was destroyed. Singh’s family then moved to India for their children’s higher education in 1941.
The villagers said that all developmental programs of Gah have now halted. Millions of rupees had been allocated for the development of separate schools for boys and girls, a vocational training center and a veterinary hospital. But the school buildings remain half built while the veterinary hospital and vocational training center still need viable staff.
A village of compassion
Hussian recalled the warm sentiments between Pakistan and India during the tenure of the previous government, when many key Indian delegates had visited Gah weekly.
He shared an interesting story of two energy engineers from India who came to install solar devices in Gah. Initially, both were not willing to visit Pakistan because of the stereotyped image of the country.
The engineers said that visiting Pakistan meant that either they would die or return to India with a beard.
Eventually, upon receiving immense hospitality from the villagers, the engineers confessed to not wanting to leave.
The villagers hope this sentiment will spread as they cling to the hope that Singh will one day come back to visit his childhood home.
The development of this village meanwhile continues to suffer a similar fate to that of the stalled Indo-Pak talks.