Limkheda (Gujarat), Sep 17 (IANS) Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday shed all security and proceeded in an open vehicle from the helipad, waving at the cheering crowds at his rally in this Gujarat tribal town and sought to invoke Gujarati pride by noting a local lad had come to meet them on his birthday.
However, the event also saw a continuous trickle of people leaving the venue.
A 67-feet cutout symbolising Modi entering his 67th year stood large in the backdrop as he reached the sprawling Arts College Ground at Mota Hathidhara in Limkheda town in Dahod district of central Gujarat which was all decked up to receive him. Unlike in the south, huge cutouts of politicians are new to the state.
Thousands of people cheered the Prime Minister as the slogans for him reached a crescendo, but a pin-drop silence descended as Gujarat BJP stalwarts, including Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and state chief Jitibhai Vaghani tried to raise slogans – and had to virtually cajole the crowds to join them.
Again, in a rarity in Gujarat, scores of tribals began leaving the venue in between Modi’s speech where he spoke of his government’s focus on overall development, even as others sought to raise enthusiasm with high decibel slogans of “Modi, Modi”.
Schoolchildren and local artistes performed to customised songs like “Son of Hiraba, ruler of Delhi, Hail Modi, Hail Modi” (in Gujarati) while crowds cheered at “Duniya mein danka bajaay diyo re, Rahul ko paani pilaay diyo re (he has made a name in the world, pipped Rahul to the post)”. Traditional folk theatre (bhavai) was staged showcasing the central and state welfare schemes.
Attired in a tribal costume offered to him on the dais, Modi watched as a tribal boy delivered a speech in English to highlight schemes he had benefited from during the Modi regime in the state.
“You won’t have heard a tribal boy speak in English in presence of senior leaders. And this too, at a function to mark the 67th birthday of our beloved Prime Minister,” said Vaghani but there was no applause and no response from the crowd.
The prime minister was in Limkheda to lay the foundation stone for seven irrigation and drinking water schemes for the region. To come up at a cost of over Rs 4,800 crore, these projects are expected to cover over 25,000 acres and provide drinking water to villages in five tribal districts in the region.
“Water has been the biggest challenge. What a farmer wants is water in his fields. Our focus is on the issue that had been ignored for long,” Modi told the gathering. “Everyone generally speaks only of three basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, but I include education and health. This is our priority.”
Invoking Gujarati pride, Modi spoke about himself touching an emotional chord with the audience on how the son of the soil became the “Pradhan Sevak” of the country.
“We have focused on issues that have been ignored. We had banks but the poor were excluded. We had hospitals but the poor could not avail of those facilities. We want to change this and put things in place so that it generates employment and is self-sustaining,” Modi said.
In the same vein, he said he did not believe in celebrating his birthday except seeking the blessings of his mother, which he had done early in the morning near Gandhinagar.
Meanwhile, police cracked down on local Congress leaders wanting to stage demonstrations before Modi’s rally.
Three slogan-shouting Congress MLAs from the region and former Dahod MP Prabhaben Taviad were rounded up along with around 70 supporters from outside the party’s Limkheda office before they could proceed to the venue. They were planning to raise long pending water and irrigation problems of the region, a local Congress leader told IANS.