Narendra Modi's experience of rebuilding Kutch post-2001 earthquake will serve him well in navigating pandemic crisis
In 2004, PK Mishra — who is currently Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi — wrote a book titled The Kutch Earthquake 2001: Recollection Lessons and Insights, which was published by New Delhi's National Institute of Disaster Management
In 2004, PK Mishra — who is currently Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi — wrote a book titled The Kutch Earthquake 2001: Recollection Lessons and Insights, which was published by New Delhi's National Institute of Disaster Management.
Modi's references, in his address on Tuesday evening, to rebuilding Kutch after the earthquake have revived interest in the book. A total of 13,805 persons died in the quake — of which Kutch accounted for 12,221 deaths, Ahmedabad 721 and Rajkot 421. Lakhs of people were injured and it looked as though life and livelihood were not going to return to the region in the near future.
Mishra writes in his book: "The earthquake was most devastating in terms of its magnitude and intensity. It posed enormous challenges because of its magnitude and geographical spread for rescue, relief and rehabilitation… Yet, they faced the challenge with courage and conviction. What is remarkable is that a comprehensive rehabilitation and reconstruction programme was put in place at the earliest. An adversity was transformed into an opportunity." He goes on to add through facts and figures that "the spectacular achievement in respect of reconstruction… has no parallel anywhere" within and outside of India.
What Mishra didn't mention in the book was that the transformation of Kutch region after that devastating earthquake would have been very difficult without Modi at the helm. Those who visited the Kutch region, Bhuj, Anjar and Bachau in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake and few years later would vouch for this.
The circumstances under which Modi was made Gujarat chief minister in October 2001 ought to be noted. When the earthquake shook Gujarat, Modi was national general secretary (organisation) of the BJP and Keshubhai Patel was chief minister. Although a seasoned politician and second-time chief minister, Patel but was seemingly overwhelmed by the magnitude of devastation and it appeared to the central BJP leadership — then-prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and home minister LK Advani — that with Patel at the helm things could go wrong. The reconstruction and rehabilitation had to be done at faster pace.
Gujarat was an important state for the BJP and was soon going to the polls. The Vajpayee-Advani duo decided to send Modi to Gujarat to replace Keshubhai Patel. He had no administrative experience and no general secretary (organisation) had even held a chief minister's post, but the two leaders at the top were impressed by what they'd seen.
As it turned out, Modi led the party to victory with an increased majority. It was for the first time that the BJP had returned to power for the second consecutive time in any state. He broke that jinx and the BJP continues to rule the state till date.
BJP veterans from Gujarat say that in his formative years Modi used to travel extensively in Kutch and made it a point to be there on some Diwalis. He knew that people in the region were very hardworking and created great deal of wealth, but the city landscapes didn't reflect that. His idea was to bring people out of panic and helplessness and get them to work with able assistance from the state. In the next few years he worked with a focused plan and changed the face of the Kutch region.
Government offices, hospitals and schools looked like the best of corporate and private sector structures. The infamous white (salt) desert of Rann was turned into a tourist spot — the Rannutsav. The Vajpayee government at the Centre was persuaded to give Income Tax and Excise relief to those investing in Kutch region.
Modi's talk of Atmanirbhar Bharat (Self-Reliant India) likely stems from his experience of the reconstruction of Kutch and other such challenges.
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