Narendra Modi, while serving as the Gujarat chief minister, had rather brusquely told a group of journalists, representing foreign media, that Gujaratis respected money and knew how to invest it in business to multiply it. He made the remark in response to a question on why unlike other states, Gujarat was not facing any protests over land acquisition for industrialisation. “We offer them lucrative price and they are happy,” Modi had said nonchalantly. The occasion was a dinner in Ahmedabad after the successful conclusion of the ambitious first Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit 2003 when he was looking for domestic and foreign investments in the state.
Fourteen years down the line, Modi, now the prime minister of the country, still believes that money and business can drive just anything, including voters. The same Gujarati spark was visible when he addressed a rally in the Goa capital Panaji on Saturday evening, seeking votes for a second consecutive term of the BJP in power. With the Election Commission giving a small window for campaigning in Goa and Punjab, slated to go to polls on 4 February to elect their new state legislative assemblies, this happened to be the only rally Modi would address in Goa in view of the Budget session of Parliament starting 1 February.
Modi had little time at his disposal. He explained during the course of his speech that his chopper must take off before sunset. But half an hour that he spoke, was just enough to drive home the point that like his home state Gujarat, Goa too respects money and business. The crux of his speech was simple and straight – give BJP a comfortable majority and reap benefits of central grants, aids and schemes.
The BJP has already been harping upon the Rs 15,000-crores granted by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways for widening and improvements of road network in Goa and construction of new bridges, which are lifeline to coastal Goa divided by half a dozen rivers that flow into the Arabian Sea.
Goa, the smallest Indian state with one of the highest GDP, is a tourist paradise. Promise more tourists and more money through tourism and you can win over a Goan's confidence. Modi tried to do exactly that.
“My government is laying emphasis on inbound tourism to India. Goa is set to benefit the most from it. We have introduced relaxed visa regime including visa on arrival and e-visa which will boost tourism in Goa. The Centre is making efforts to bring in more foreign tourists and it is up to the state governments to ensure they stay longer. The Goa government has taken correct initiatives and we are working together to make Goa more attractive for tourists,” Modi said.
He mentioned the ongoing construction of a new bridge over the river Zuari, expected to be completed next year. Taking a jibe at the main Opposition, Modi said the Congress government while in power at the Centre for a decade never thought about the need for a new bridge in Goa. “Everything being constructed in Goa will make them tourist icons. The Zuari river bridge, while making lives easier for the locals, will become a huge tourist attraction.”
Modi’s formula for Goa is simple: Give boost to tourism and infrastructure development, which in turn will create more employment opportunities. Modi offered a bargain by promising to make Goa a “comfortable state” if the BJP returns to power with a “comfortable majority”.
Once the operative part of his speech was over, Modi turned to the political part, warning against voting for any other party to power. While he repeatedly named Congress, he avoided directly naming the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which has emerged as a contender for power in Goa.
The BJP’s star campaigner warned Goans against handing over power to Congress, blaming it for political instability that plagued Goa not long ago. Modi reminded the crowd that between 1990 and 2000, Goa witnessed a dozen chief ministers. He alleged that Goa’s development suffered from the disease of instability, horse-trading and rampant corruption, perpetuated by the Congress party.
In his typical style to involve the crowd, Modi turned to them and asked, “Tell me, aren’t Indians smart? Why is the Congress being defeated across the country? Well, Goans are smarter. They have seen the Congress’ misrule and corruption and they will not vote for the Congress again,” Modi declared after getting positive response from the massive crowd.
He also warned Goa voters against voting for those who believe in vote-cutting politics, terming them as pickpockets of democracy and impediment for Goa’s progress, indirectly referring to BJP’s erstwhile ally Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and a battery of smaller parties that dot political scenario of Goa.
Next in his line of firing was AAP. Modi said he read in media that they (AAP) had said that the minister’s office put pressure on the Election Commission to hold elections in Goa and Gujarat on the same date (first date of polling among the five poll-bound states). “If you don’t trust the umpire (Election Commission), then why do you come to play the game? It means they are preparing for excuses for defeats in Goa and Punjab,” Modi said.
Modi praised the government in Goa by saying that during the past five years, it has laid foundation for Goa’s gigantic development and has set the yardstick for bigger states. He did not forget to remind the crowd that his government at the Centre has given financial aid to Goa which no other government ever did in the last five decades.
Modi said he could do it because after three decades, India elected a party to power with clear majority and it was time for Goa to elect the BJP with comfortable majority so that he as the prime minister can make Goa the most comfortable state.
Long after the prime minister had gone, opinions were divided over the impact of his rally. All and sundry agreed that it was one of the biggest gatherings Goa had witnessed in the recent years. Given Goa’s small population of just above 1.5 million, any gathering exceeding 10,000 here is termed as huge. Modi’s rally had attracted manifolds.
“Yes, it was a big gathering, no doubt. But many like me just came to see and listen to the prime minister. Big crowd does not mean more votes. I doubt BJP will win majority of its own as it dithered on its promises of giving status of special state to Goa and closing down casinos,” Sridhar Pai, a Panaji-based lawyer said.
However, Dilip Pathkar differed with Pai. According to him, Modi’s speech would infuse a new lease of life into BJP workers and may help the fence-sitters opt for BJP yet again.
One will have to wait till 11 March, when results in Goa along with other four states are announced to know impact of Modi’s rally. If BJP ends up being the single largest party in a projected hung Assembly, then Modi would have failed to impress Goa’s voters and even a clear majority, if not comfortable majority, would add another feather in the cap of the one-man political industry that Modi has emerged during the past two and a half years.
Updated Date: Jan 29, 2017 19:08:43 IST