Narendra Modi in Gujarat: Promises, foundation stones galore as PM woos voters with a flourish of oratory

Published on Oct 07 2017 - - India - -

Chotila (Saurashtra region, Gujarat): As chief minister and later as the prime minister, Narendra Modi often taunted the Congress that they would have to follow him wherever he went to either reply to him or to emulate him. When he kicked off the third leg of his campaign on Saturday morning in a month’s time from the holy town of Dwarka and went to another pilgrim town Chotila in Gujarat’s Saurashtra region, there was but a major difference that was very much, unlike vintage Modi.He was following Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi who wrapped up his three-day sojourn of the state’s Saurashtra region from Dwarka and signed off in Chotila just 10 days ago on 27 September. The similarity, of course, ends there.

For, when it is Gujarat, when it is Modi and when he is the prime minister, the pomp, the show, the style, the oratory and the crowds have to be grand and sweeping. Something the entire muscle and machinery of the Congress can’t even come close to mustering, leave alone the comparisons with the Gandhi scion who is yet learning the ropes.

But the comparison, simultaneously, becomes inevitable in a larger perspective since Gandhi was the first representative of 10, Janpath, who stayed put for three full days in the Saurashtra region and mingled with ease and convenience among palpably responsive crowds, throwing Chief Minister Vijay Rupani into a panic. He called Gandhi a “drowsy bat” and a “gangu teli”, the kind of words the normally soft-spoken man is not adept at.

Saurashtra is like Uttar Pradesh of Gujarat for it sends the maximum number of MLAs, 52, to the 182-member state Assembly and is the BJP’s bastion for two decades. Congress getting an unusually positive response to Gandhi in this region is a matter of concern for the BJP, which depends completely on the persona of Modi.

The perception in the BJP, that is ruling Gujarat since 1995, and rightly so is that Modi alone could dwarf all caste contradictions and anti-incumbency in the state just by a few visits with his “vikas purush” (development man) positioning. That the prime minister is on a veritable foundation stone-laying spree during this visit is also to forcefully drum home the message of development.

This, especially in the face of an embarrassing social media blitzkrieg in Gujarat under the theme, Vikas Gando Thayo Chhey (Development has gone bonkers) and Maara Haara Chhetri Gaya (They took us for a neat ride) taunting at the development claims of the state and Central governments. And it is not a campaign by the Congress, which is yet to demonstrate anything so effective anywhere, leave alone Gujarat.

Modi shot back in his inimitable style after laying the foundation stone of an international airport near Rajkot, Saurashtra’s nerve centre and Chief Minister Vijay Rupani’s hometown. “Airport aave ke nai, vimano aave ke nai? (Should an airport be set up here or not, shouldn’t planes fly here too?).”

“Aaney vikas kehvaay? (Can this be called development?),” he asked, and the massive crowds who had braved the sweltering heat to attend his public meeting in Chotila, shouted, “Yes” in unison. Modi then asked again, “Vikas aav-vo joiye? (Should there be progress?).” This time the reply was even louder.

He said, “The country never had an aviation policy so many years and now after we evolved the policy, there has been a rise of 14 percent in the number of people travelling by air. Not only big cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai but now even smaller cities are being covered.”

“In the next few years, there will be a situation when every state will have 10 to 15 airports. Those wearing hawai chappals will also be making hawai yatra (travels by air),” he said, to cheering crowds, assuring them they would also be travelling by air.

During his two-day visit, Modi is scheduled to address as many as six public meetings, launching various schemes and projects at five places in three regions in the poll-bound state. By Saturday afternoon itself, the prime minister had laid foundation stones of as many as six infrastructure projects: Signature sea link bridge from Dwarka to the popular island pilgrimage centre, Bet Dwarka, four-laning of Dwarka-Porbander highway as well as Gadu-Porbander road, four laning of Rajkot-Morbi state highway, six laning of major Ahmedabad-Rajkot highway and Rajkot International Airport.

The prime minister also announced the setting up of the country’s first and biggest Marine Police training institute at Mojak in Devbhoomi Dwarka district of the state.

“I would like to give a gift to the people of Gujarat that will benefit the entire country. For the security of the coastal area, we are working to modernise Marine Police (who look after coastal security till 5 km from the shore).

In state capital Gandhinagar, Modi inaugurated a new building of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT).

On Sunday, Modi will relaunch expanded Meghdhanush scheme for immunisation of children and mothers as well as distribute e-tablets to health workers to mark the launch of ImTeCHO (Innovative mobile-phone Technology for Community Health Operations). This loosely suggest in Gujarati “my support for you” (TeCHO in Gujarati means support and IM is I am in your support).

The prime minister appeared relieved that he came to Gujarat after several changes were announced in the controversial Goods and Services Act (GST) on Friday, knowing well the massive discontent and disillusionment among the large small and medium scale business sector in Gujarat could cost the BJP heavily in the December state Assembly election.

And Gandhi had rubbed in demonetisation and GST during his entire tour, generating a good response from the crowds at several places.

The BJP’s biggest and the most loyal vote bank in Gujarat has been the urban middle class and GST has hit them the most, coming as it did after the sledgehammer impact of demonetisation. Rupani has also announced that petrol and diesel prices will come down in the state, though he has not given a timeframe.

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