Like Midas whose touch turned everything into gold, any event that Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends turns into an extravaganza. Moreso, in his home state of Gujarat. Furthermore, because elections are due here later this year. For proof .his latest two-day visit which ended on June 30.
Oh, what a show!. The Vijay Rupani led BJP government pulled out all stops, going overboard in building the glitz and glamour quotient for the visit. The chief minister’s hometown, Rajkot where the prime minister had four high-profile functions packed into as many hours, went into ‘paroxysms’ of weeklong celebrations. There were concerts, plays,’lok-dayras’, street lighting, illumination of public buildings, cycle rally, fireworks, beautification of traffic circles, light and sound shows, laser shows. In the build- up, rallies galore to invite people, 5.50 lakh stickers pasted door to door, for the prime minister’s road show, 150 hospitals decorated with fairy lights, 550 hoardings and 40,000 BJP party flags placed across the city. This was apart from the official illumination citywide.
Schools had a holiday, lawyers abstained from work so as not to inconvenience litigants and the Rajkot bar council appealed to the court authority to give adjournments in cases, the city bus service was virtually shut down.
Then there was a phalanx of security men on duty. Besides the Special Protection Group (SPG) commandos, there were three Inspector Generals of Police, 26 SSPs, 66 Deputy superintendents of police, 50 police inspectors, 500 sub-inspectors besides 15 companies of the State Reserve Police (SRP) to back the city’s own 8000 strong police complement. Since the prime minister was to hold a 9km road show from the site of the dam to the city airport, over a hundred stages had been erected enroute to enable selected caste group leaders to felicitate him. He chose not to stop.
The Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar engagements of the prime minister saw similar marshalling of resources with normal life, already beset by rains, being thrown out of gear. The state capital was awash in BJP flags as was Ahmedabad with a rash of hoardings carrying images of the prime minister and the state chief minister announcing both achievements and schemes. Put up just a day before Modi’s visit, these were meant for whom, remained a million dollar question. The prime minister has been the state’s chief minister for over a decade and is knowledgeable about them and the people of the state are being told about it almost on a daily basis through a variety of media.
The fact is that for almost a month, the bulk of the state machinery was glued into only the prime minister’s two-day visit with every other administrative and policing function taking a backseat. The common man whose cause Modi vociferously espouses was the least of the administration’s concern, atleast for these two days as official instructions went from zealous to bizarre. There were 1200 Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation (GSRTC) buses on call to take people to any of the prime minister’s engagements for free. These were pulled out from all over the state in callous disregard of public concern with routes cancelled and people left to fend for themselves in the midst of a full-blooded monsoon.
The most bizarre, however, was a letter received by the divisional railway manager, Ahmedabad from the inspector-in-charge of a police station under whose jurisdiction the state guest house where the prime minister was to stay, falls.” A railway track passes near the state guest house and hence in view of the security of the prime minister, train movement should be halted along the railway track or the trains should be diverted”, read the official letter. Trains to Delhi as well as Saurashtra region use this track. Imagine the mayhem if train traffic on the route had been halted for two days. However better sense prevailed and well in time.
Modi is known to abhor any form of protest at his public engagements right from his chief ministerial days. The case of the then Congress MP, Prabha Taviad who was forcibly prevented by the cops from attending the official Gujarat day function on May 1, 2012, despite being invited as the area MP is one of many such cases during Modi rule in the state. The matter figured in the lok sabha and was referred to the privileges committee of Parliament.
With the prime minister acquiring demi-god status, curbing any sort of protest has now acquired paranoiac proportions under the Vijay Rupani government. Even the hint of a black cloth, even handkerchief or dupatta is not permitted by the police at the prime minister’s meetings.
Opposition leaders are marked out and put under unofficial detention in their own homes or offices for the period of the function.
While intelligence shadowing is routine, for the first time in the history of the state, the Gujarat police deployed 2500 police personnel as part of ‘detention squads’. Worried that rising discontent among ethnic and business groups may trigger protests, the cops set up these squads.
The Patidars have been protesting for reservations in jobs, dalits against atrocities, traders are on the warpath against GST and the Congress against the policies of the government. Five hundred cops were deployed at each of the venues in the four cities under the supervision of five SPs.
.A public show of strength attended by BJP chief Amit Shah and chief minister Rupani in Surat on September 8, last year had to be wound up within minute, despite the fact that netting had been strung between the audience and the stage to prevent a footwear shower on the VIPs. It took the prime minister to retrieve the situation with an 11 km long road show in Surat on April 16 this year. The Rajkot engagements were similarly poll-oriented.
Quite simply put, the BJP is electioneering at state cost spending colossal amounts on extravaganzas. Rajkot town in Saurashtra is water deficient and carrying the Narmada waters to the Aji dam is laudable. But doing so, during a bumper monsoon when the skies have opened up in full, sounds ludicrous. And then organising a seven-day state ‘fair’ and getting the prime minister into it, moreso. Sadly, there is more of it to follow at peoples coAst, in the days to come!