It’s Raining ‘Revdi’ in Gujarat
Sea planes, bullet trains, DREAM city and Rs 80,000 crore worth of projects for his beloved home state…Is PM Modi’s pre-election largesse for Gujarat worrying our arbiters of free and fair elections?
The seasonal showers have now acquired sleet intensity as it rains ‘revdi’—nominations and inaugurations, grand plans and gilt-edged promises, not to mention awards and rewards in the run-up to the assembly election in Gujarat.
The Prime Minister’s two-day visit to the state from September 29 saw him laying foundation stones or inaugurating projects/schemes worth Rs 29,000 crores. Each of the frequent visits of the Prime Minister yields a bonanza of a couple of hundred crores to the state. A back of the envelope calculation estimates that Modi has announced investments worth Rs 80,000 crore in Gujarat in the past six months ending September. This does not include similar inaugurations/foundation stone laying ceremonies by home minister Amit Shah and chief minister Bhupendra Patel over the same period.
April 20: PM lays foundation stone of various development projects worth around Rs 22,000 crore.
June 10: PM lays foundation stones for 12 projects, does bhoomi-pujan for 14 projects and inaugurates seven projects with a projected investment of Rs 3,050 crore at Navsari aimed at improving water supply in the region, boosting connectivity and enhancing ease of living.
July 15: PM virtually inaugurates projects worth Rs 1,100 crore including a Rs 790 crore five-star hotel built atop the re-developed Gandhinagar railway station.
July 28: PM inaugurates and lays foundation stone of multiple projects worth over Rs 1,000 crore at Sabar dairy in Sabarkantha district.
August 27-28: PM lays foundation stones of projects worth Rs 4,400 crore in Bhuj, inaugurates Kutch branch canal of Sardar Sarovar project. In Gandhinagar, PM lays foundation stones of two key facilities of Suzuki worth Rs 18,300 crore.
September 29-30: PM unveils projects worth Rs 29,000 crore. These included ‘world’s first’ CNG terminal in Bhavnagar, Metro-phase 1 in Ahmedabad, Phase-1 of Diamond Research and Mercantile (DREAM) city at Surat, flagging off the Gandhinagar-Mumbai Central Vande Bharat Express train besides inaugurating the 36th national games being held in the state.
A day earlier, the Union cabinet announced a three-month extension up to December 31 of the ‘Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana’ at a cost of Rs 44,762 crore. The scheme provides 5 kg of wheat and rice free of cost. The move yielded splendid electoral dividends in Uttar Pradesh and hence extended to cover the period in the run up to the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections. Over 7.1 million families, or roughly, 34.8 million people in Gujarat which will benefit from the free ration scheme.
The Union cabinet on 28 September also approved the redevelopment of Ahmedabad, New Delhi and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj railway stations at a cost of Rs 10,000 crore. No sooner was the announcement made, the social media was flooded with a 3-D model of the Ahmedabad railway station.
Facts are at a discount and rhetoric rules during election times. So, no eyebrows were raised when the PM claimed that he found the Vande Bharat train a hundred times less noisy than an aeroplane. He also added that he had run from pillar to post “in the corridors of power” to get the 100-year-old plan for the 116 km Taranga Hill–Abu road rail link cleared, but failed—hinting obliquely at UPA government’s perfidy.
While both Modi and Amit Shah miss few opportunities to blame the UPA and the Congress for all the ills in the state, they gloss over the fact that BJP has been in power in the state for 27 years, that Modi himself was chief minister for over 12 years and that NDA-1 was in power at the Centre between 1998 and 2004.
Congress national spokesperson Shaktisinh Gohil, who hails from Bhavnagar, locked horns with the prime minister on his claims. “The promised Kalpasar Yojana from Bhavnagar district, even more ambitious than the Narmada project, is nowhere in sight though more than a decade has passed since the announcement,” he pointed out.
“On 26 January 2012, at a public meeting in Bhavnagar you promised a Rs 425 crore ship building park; but the state-owned Alcock Ashdown ship builders was closed down. On 14 February 2014, a revamped Mahua port was promised, but it is nowhere in sight. Promises of making Mithi Virdi as a central port and Bhavnagar as a national plastic park also remain unfulfilled,” Gohil added.” The list of promises made and dishonoured is long, he says
Gujarat Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi pointed out, “The prime minister may claim to be a super achiever, but it has taken him 18 years to bring the first phase of the Ahmedabad metro to fruition.
“Who is responsible for the price escalation which rose from Rs 3,500 crore to Rs 12,700 crore since the project report was submitted in 2004? The low salaries paid to metro train operators is another point,” Doshi said.
Under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal mission, the UPA government had provided five lakh crore rupees over ten years for 1,500 projects. Gujarat was given Rs 20,000 crore for BRTS, 108 Ambulance Service, new buses and sewage treatment, he pointed out. But long after the new buses were introduced, Gujarat government under Modi did not acknowledge JNNURM on the buses till the UPA government threatened to cut off the funding.
With elections round the corner and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) having joined the ranks of the challengers, Gujarat is now a three-legged race. The poll promises of Congress and AAP have further queered the pitch for the BJP. The Gujarat government headed by Bhupendra Patel has been pushed on the backfoot with both allies and government employees demanding their pound of flesh.
The realisation that the government is the most vulnerable before the election has made employee unions and even the filial Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) to flex their muscles. The ranks of angry employees have been joined by enraged ex-servicemen, road transport employees, ASHA workers and forest guards among others.
A harassed state government is struggling in the face of a torrent of demands, all served with ultimatums. The five-minister panel formed in a jiffy to avoid these stirs spinning out of control is working overtime, but it is still harried.
The support extended by Congress and AAP to these agitations has added to BJP’s desperation, forcing it to concede many—if not most—of the demands.
Take the case of policemen agitating for the past one year for salary revision. The government was in no mood to listen but after Arvind Kejriwal promised better pay scales for policemen if and when AAP comes to power, the state government scrambled to contain the damage.
Four days after Kejriwal’s gambit, the government announced a Rs 550 crore package of allowances. Immediately, the patwaris demanded that their decade-long demand for a hike in allowances be met. Following protracted negotiations, the state government agreed to revise these allowances from Rs 900 to Rs 3,000 beginning September 2022.
The ex-servicemen’s stir took a serious turn when one of the protesting members died. With the state capital Gandhinagar turned into a virtual police camp, the ex-servicemen are on a dharna over their 14-point demand, though the government has conceded their demand for enhanced compensation for the next of kin of soldiers killed in the line of duty. Congress and AAP have promised to accept all their demands, if voted to power.
Earlier, the Par-Tapi-Narmada river-linking project announced in the Union budget was scrapped days after Congress leader Rahul Gandhi announceed at a rally in May that the project would be junked if Congress came to power in the state. Chief minister Patel, who had initially put the project on hold, scrapped it after the Congress spearheaded tribal stir began gaining momentum.
Prime Minister Modi sought to neutralise anti-incumbency and Covid-time mismanagement by sending the Vijay Rupani cabinet packing, replacing them with a totally new set of ministers. In the process, however, he weakened the position of the outgoing as well as the incoming chief minister.
A former policeman, C.R. Patil, heading the state BJP and the new chief minister being a political non-entity (at a recent Town Hall of a TV channel, not a single member in the audience could name the chief minister), have added to BJP’s woes. The sudden divestment of portfolios of two key cabinet ministers—Rajendra Trivedi and Purnesh Modi— on August 20 strengthened the impression of a drift in the party.
With the election schedule expected to be announced soon, the BJP is under pressure. The increasing frequency of visits of PM Modi and his lieutenant Amit Shah, their desperate announcements and poll rhetoric also point to the BJP finding itself on a sticky wicket.