Packaging the new, re-packaging the old…

He likes things grand, and his promises even grander. Gujaratis will remember that wannabe ‘Smart City’ Dholera is on its way to becoming ‘‘four times bigger than Shanghai"

PM Modi inaugurates seaplane service in Gujarat in October 2020 (Photo: Twitter/@SRFDCL)
PM Modi inaugurates seaplane service in Gujarat in October 2020 (Photo: Twitter/@SRFDCL)

R K Misra

It’s great to have elections in Gujarat. These years, every time we have an election, we also have a ‘metro’ inauguration,’ tweeted a Gujarat-based editor last week. She was referring to the re-inauguration on September 30, by Prime Minister Modi himself, of Phase I of the Ahmedabad metro project; it had been inaugurated first in 2019.

The Ahmedabad metro rail project, mired in controversies and allegations of corruption, has moved at a snail’s pace over the past 18 years. It has managed to cover just 30-odd kilometres while the project cost has gone up four times since 2004. At this rate, quipped a Gujarat resident, the bullet train will be inaugurated in 2024 and space travel in 2027.

Year 2019 is not such a distant memory—it was memorable for more than one reason. On 4 March 2019, the Prime Minister had inaugurated a part of Phase 1 of Ahmedabad metro connecting Vastral to Apparel Park, a distance of 6.5 km. Six days later, the Model Code of Conduct came into play following the announcement of the Lok Sabha elections beginning April. To be fair to the PM, on 30 September 2022 while inaugurating the Ahmedabad metro again—days before the election dates are announced—he did qualify it by saying that this was the “first time” a 32 km stretch of the metro was being “operationalised”.

Political observers remember Modi, as the then chief minister of Gujarat, announcing the revival of the mythical Saraswati river in September 2005. An artificial pool was created by diverting water from the Narmada. It was called the Saraswati-Narmada Mahasangam. Over 100,000 people were brought for the announcement and priests hailed the chief minister as ‘Bhagirath’ and blessed him. Ecstatic people took dips in the pool and went back with the muddy water that they believed was rare and holy.

Almost a decade later in December 2014, the Union water resources ministry in response to a question by a Rajya Sabha MP about the progress of the project replied, “Since the state government has not submitted any plan, there is no plan for the development of the Saraswati in Gujarat”. It was then that research grants were announced for tracing the course of the mythical river.

In June the same year (2005), chief minister Modi announced India’s biggest gas find in 30 years. GSPC had struck gas in KrishnaGodavari (KG) basin off the Andhra Pradesh coast, he told a packed press conference. Reserves estimated at 20 tcf (trillion cubic feet), worth $50 billion, hit international headlines. Media reports noted that gas production from the KG basin by Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation would help generate 10,000 MW of power— enough to meet peak power requirements of both Delhi and Mumbai at that time.

But once the initial euphoria got over, state government sources quietly claimed that it was actually 2 tcf of gas, not 20 tcf. The media, they said, got it all wrong. The director general of hydrocarbons followed up by reducing the authentication certificate to one-tenth of the figure that was originally claimed.

A 2018 CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General of India) report revealed that the debt-ridden GSPC was the biggest loss-making state PSU, registering accumulated losses worth Rs 17,061 crore. This year the company’s net worth has plunged into the negative but yet the state government is investing Rs 1,000 crore in it this year.

Ahead of the last assembly election in 2017, Prime Minister Modi had flown in a seaplane “for the first time in the country” and in 2020 inaugurated a seaplane service from Sardar Sarovar to Sabarmati riverfront in October 2020—described as “India’s first seaplane service”.

In Narendra Modi’s Gujarat, promises never dry up. In 2007, it was “every house in Gujarat will have its own oil well”. In 2012, it was “every rooftop will be a source of power, both for use and to sell” alluding to a solar power revolution.

Well, everyone does love a good election. Not even just the grand tamasha of the rulers playing supplicants for once. It’s tempting to cling to some of those promises they make— they do have a dream-like quality and the same nasty habit of slipping away from your grasp when you wake up.

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