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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The PM’s trail: Pulling out the stops in Gujarat, despite Hardik Patel

Reducing the GST on ‘khakra,’ Gujarat’s beloved savoury, laying several foundation stones in the state and going home to Vadnagar for the first time since he became PM, are among Modi and the BJP’s several ideas on retaining the state when polls are held in December

Written by Jyoti Malhotra | Updated: October 8, 2017 5:30:42 pm
PM Modi, Narendra Modi, Vadnagar, Vadnagar video, gujarat, india news, indian express news Modi’s visit to Gujarat is much more than nostalgia.

A 1:28 second video on the wonders of Vadnagar, lit up in various colours on the eve of prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit has been shared and retweeted several thousand times on social media, hardly unusual in itself. What is interesting is the professional manner in which the video has been made, with Vadnagar’s monuments being shot in close-up and dissolving into one another as if this was an Incredible India advertisement.

Perhaps it is. No stone has been left unturned, as they say. Modi’s birthplace was spruced up and decked up, cardboard cut-outs of teapots hanging from marigold ropes strung up on trees, the canteen at the local railway station where Narendrabhai served tea as a young boy now converted into a tourism spot, while the town’s Hatkeshwar temple was the PM’s first stop on this journey home from Race Course Road in Delhi, the first since he became prime minister three years ago.

Make no mistake, though, Modi’s visit to Gujarat is much more than nostalgia. The first event took place at the Dwarkadheesh temple, where he inaugurated a Marine Police Training institute at the newly created Dev Bhoomi Dwarka district and laid the foundation stone of a bridge between Okha and Byet Dwarka. That was followed by a pit stop at Chotila town in Surendranagar district, where he laid several foundation stones – including those for a greenfield airport in Rajkot, six-laning of the the Ahmedabad-Rajkot national highway and four-laning of the Rajkot-Morbi state highway.

It was at Chotila that a satirical Twitter handle called @VikasGando (full name in Gujarati, Vikas Gandi Thayo Chhe, its English translation being ‘I Am Vikas Gone Crazy Nowadays’) claimed that @TOIAhmedabad deleted its tweet saying that people who had come to hear the Prime Minister started leaving early.


At Surendranagar, Gandhinagar and the aforesaid Vadnagar, there were several other projects galore – several foundation stone-laying ceremonies, a new IIT campus, a new medical college as well as flagging off the Antyodaya Express to Bihar.

So does this whirlwind itinerary sound like the first installation of the PM’s campaign for the Gujarat elections which will take place in December? (Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani said the PM has announced works amounting to Rs 10,000 crores.) Naturally, once the Election Commission announces polls a few days from now, the model code of conduct will kick in and the PM cannot make any more promises.

Remember, too, that this is Modi’s seventh visit to Gujarat this year, while BJP president Amit Shah has spent several weeks in the state, assuaging the BJP’s core trader constituency deeply distressed by the changes wrought in the GST regime. Some of the amendments made last Friday was in response to the atmosphere of doom and gloom that pervades the textile cities of Surat and Ahmedabad, as well as to Jamnagar, Mandvi and Bhuj.

While the ‘khakra,’ the hugely beloved savoury snack of the Gujaratis, for which GST has been reduced from 12 per cent to 5 per cent, had earlier been in the direct line of Gujarati ire.

Does this mean that the prime minister and Amitbhai are worried that Gujarat may not return the BJP as resoundingly as it has done these last three stateelections (with 127, 117 and 117 seats in the 2002, 2007 and 2012, respectively, while it swept the 2014 Lok Sabha elections with all 26 seats) ?

Patidar leader Hardik Patel’s tweet on the first day of Modi’s Gujarat visit, sounds like he’s throwing down a gauntlet.

“Abe k naya yudh aarambh hoga, uski takat mera krodh, uska ahankar meri zidd ke beech yeh ailan hai,” Patel said. A new war will now begin, whose strength will be my anger and its arrogance my stubbornness.

The tweet has been liked 27000 times, which is significant, but only one-third or one-fourth the “likes” that an average tweet by @narendramodi receives.

Certainly, there is a nip in the BJP air. The re-election of veteran Congressman Ahmed Patel to the Rajya Sabha, which came as a huge blow to the party, has led to some political observers blaming the outcome on party infighting as well as the political savvy of Gujarat’s Congressmen.

Certainly, too, this doesn’t mean that the BJP will catch a cold or that its senior leadership will need to take medicines to stave off the party’s deteriorating health. But the emphasis on bringing out the PM and party president, rather than its lacklustre state leaders, to inaugurate the campaign in Gujarat suggests that the ruling party will once again bank on these two faces to keep the powder dry in their home state.

Jyoti Malhotra tweets @jomalhotra

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