A cut-out has been put up under a banyan tree at the entrance to the Vadnagar railway station declaring ‘Vadnagar ki chai pe charcha’. Overhead hang paper aluminium tea pots. Underlining what links the railway station, the tea pots and ‘chai pe charcha’, a sign says, “Bal Narendra Modi ahin cha vechta (It’s here that Bal Narendra Modi sold tea)”. Another corner of the railway station has an exhibition of paintings depicting the Prime Minister’s life as a tea vendor. According to one of the captions, “During India-China war, he served tea and food to Indian soldiers at the railway station”.
Another tea pot occupies pride of place amidst a giant rangoli and marigold flowers on a neat platform. Modi arrives in home town Vadnagar on Sunday for his first visit since becoming PM. And the welcome extends beyond the railway station, which is being revamped as part of a major upgradation of the town, to the roads he will take, the local Sharmishtha lake, Hatkeshwar temple, and his alma mater B N High School, all of which are at work laying out the red carpet. As per some of the villagers and Modi’s family members, the Sharmishtha lake is from where Modi, as a child, caught a crocodile and brought it home.
The 6-km road stretch from Gunja village, where the chopper carrying Modi will land, to Vadnagar has been turned into a picture gallery showcasing events from his childhood. Enlarged prints have been taken of his photographs, both in black and white and colour, from early years and put up along the route. The captions in Gujarati capture his milestones: ‘When he financially supported his family by helping his father sell tea at the railway station’, ‘At eight years he was devoted to public service and joined the RSS as a swayamsewak’, ‘Took exile at an age of 17 years’, ‘Graduate in political science and after that post-graduate in the same subject’, ‘Started his political career by leading the BJP win in Ahmedabad municipal elections’, ‘Seen with BJP veteran L K Advani’.
The photos mark him being sworn in as Gujarat chief minister for the first time in 2001, and take account of all the schemes announced by him both as CM and as PM, from Jyotigram Yojana and Panchamrut Yojana, to Jan Dhan Yojana, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and demonetisation, “an innovative idea against black money”.
People from not just the town but also neighbouring villages and districts are expected to attend Modi’s events in Vadnagar Sunday. Modi is expected to start his road show from Gunja village, and travel through Vadnagar, crossing the railway station, his school, Hatkeshwar temple, where he is expected to perform puja, and Sharmishtha lake. Later, he will head to the GMERS Medical College and Hospital and “dedicate it to the nation”, and then address a public gathering on the outskirts of Vadnagar.
Hoardings put up across the town mention Modi’s contribution to developing the Vadnagar railway station, including a Rs 195 crore project for gauge conversion from narrow to broad over a distance of 56 km, and a new Rs 1,695 crore railway line.
Mital Rathod, a Class 12 student at B N High School, said they would attend Modi’s rally wearing T-shirts saying ‘Welcome Namo’. “So what if we have our exams? This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Mital, as she scribbled “I am proud of you Shri Narendra Modiji” on a giant poster placed at the entrance of the school. The poster with the messages would on Sunday morning be placed outside the school, along the route of Modi’s road show.
Principal Ashokbhai Gosai instructed students to carry out a mashaal (flame) rally on Saturday evening along the road show path, till Sharmishtha lake. “It is really a big day in the history of Vadnagar,” he said.
Jayshreeben Patel, the BJP Lok Sabha MP from Mehsana, supervised the preparations on Saturday. “The excitement to welcome the PM can be gauged from the fact that each house of Vadnagar will make a lotus rangoli and also palav toran at their doorsteps for two days. Two thousand women from Mehsana put lotus mehandi on their palms today. Also women from different communities, like Chaudhary, Shia, Sunni and others, dressed in traditional attire, will welcome him along the road show,” said Patel.
Mehasana Collector H K Patel was also present on Saturday inspecting preparations for the public meeting. “All security and checks are being ensured for this event, the first ever by a PM,” he said.