For the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in Gujarat, the very presence of Narendra Modi — be it as the chief minister or the prime minister — electrifies the cadres.
And when he comes calling with a highly ambitious project like the bullet train which promises to collapse the geographical distances between two cousins — Ahmedabad and Mumbai, split only by political boundaries in the sixties — it only adds to the euphoria. Gujarat goes to polls in December and the political circle in the state has been missing the Modi magic.
The ground breaking ceremony for the 508-kilometre Rs 1,08,000-crore bullet train project in Ahmedabad on Thursday created an atmosphere as though the train was ready to chug off! Even a few TV channels used terms like ‘inaugurating bullet train’ in their headlines. That the bullet train will be completed only by 2022-23 was lost on most of those present at the event.
In fact, Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis seemed so excited that he wanted Modi to inaugurate the train in Mumbai, even though he noted that the ground breaking was taking place in Gujarat. Gujaratis, who have always been enamoured with Modi’s smart abbreviations and alliterations were in for a change when Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe went one up on Modi to say that the marriage of the first two letters of Japan and the first one India makes it a win-win formula for both countries. Amid loud applause, including from Modi who was visibly elated to hear this, Abe said, “With Japan’s Ja and India’s I, it becomes ‘Jai’. Jai Japan, Jai India.”
Gujaratis are known to lap it up with great awe when a foreign dignitary calls Narendra Modi a friend. In this case, Abe started his speech with ‘Namaskar’ and went on to say that he “loved Gujarat” and he would wish to “come here again with Narendra Modi in the bullet train, chatting and looking at the beautiful countryside from the window.” He not only called Japan an old friend of India, remembering how he addressed the Indian Parliament ten years ago, but Modi a “dear friend and a world leader.”
Often breaking into Gujarati in his Hindi speech, Narendra Modi called him India’s, Gujarat’s and “my personal dear friend.”
The bullet train may come whenever it does, but for the moment the BJP in Gujarat has already hopped on to it under the guidance of Modi and hopes to travel on it at least the December Assembly elections.