A few months ago, I had the opportunity to be driven through Saurashtra, from Somnath to Dwarka. On my return to Western Maharashtra where I stay, a friend asked me excitedly about the developments made by Narendra Modi which, so he had heard, had completely transformed Gujarat. I told him what I had seen, and I think it is worth repeating to a larger audience.
When we started our journey, a Gujarati friend told us that we should visit Madhavpur and Porbunder. The latter, of course, is the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi, but this was the first time I had heard of Madhavpur.
The road from Somnath to Dwarka is fairly good, though not as good as I was led to believe before coming. We left the road a number of times to go through some small towns – Keshod, Mangrol, Madhavpur, Porbunder. The roads in the interiors of these towns were absolutely atrocious.
One feature throughout our journey was the presence of cows in large numbers. Cow slaughter is banned in Gujarat, as it probably should be, but when the cows stop giving milk, they are let loose. There is no provision for retirement facilities, where the cows can live out their remaining days in peace. As a result, large herds of cows – as many as fifty or even more are roaming around the highway. Sometimes they are sitting on the road, blocking all traffic. Then one will get up, then another and so on till all are standing. Then they move slowly away.
Something like this in Western Maharashtra would have resulted in a massive traffic holdup. In Saurashtra, there is nothing of the kind. There is hardly any traffic. There is nothing to indicate that on this route, there are places of religious and cultural significance which would attract tourists.
Mr. Narendra Modi has spoken of developing India’s tourism industry if he comes to power, but in the state which he has ruled about ten years, the tourism industry is in a pathetic state. Gandhiji’s birthplace is a rundown building badly in need of repair. The toilets are very dirty, even though Gandhiji himself laid so much emphasis on the importance of clean toilets. There is a photo gallery with a number of rare photographs of Gandhiji, but no catalogue. I am sure many visitors would have welcomed the opportunity to buy reproductions of some of these photographs, but no such luck.
Madhavpur is a small town on the coast. My Gujarati friend, who was taking us round informed us that this is where Lord Krishna married Rukmini. There is a very ancient temple, which could commemorate the event, but I am not sure. There was nothing to indicate the importance of this place. We were the only visitors that morning.
Dwarka is no better. There is just one decent restaurant where a very good meal is served. The people visiting Dwarka were mainly religious tourists. We did not spot any non-Hindus like us, who had come just to pay their respects to the charismatic Lord Krishna. Nowhere on our tour did we find any books in English about these places, their history, ancient and recent.
A sure indicator of prosperity is the number of motorised vehicles. Here in Western Maharashtra, I have observed the improvement in the condition of the people with the increase in the number of two-wheelers. All sorts of craftsmen – electricians, plumbers, carpenters, etc. are now able to easily travel 50 or 60 Kms. to their workplace.
The roads are jammed with motorcycles all day, indicating that the economy is booming. Not so in Saurashtra. There we saw hardly any motorcycles or scooters. Even the jeeps which in our part of the country are so common, packed with people travelling from one small town to another are absent. Apparently not many people have the need to travel.
One has been hearing so much about ‘The Gujarat Model’. Is there really any such thing, or is it something the rest of the country has been brainwashed into believing it exists? If any news gathering organisation seriously investigates, maybe they will also conclude as I did, that ‘The Emperor has No Clothes’.
By Asif Merchant