How Modi effectively robbed Pinarayi of his carefully cultivated pro-development image

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two-day visit to Kerala concluded in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday as a celebration of what was made to look like the development largesse he was bestowing on Kerala.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had no choice but to look on as the Union Railway minister and the short films that were shown at the inaugural function at Central Stadium in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday hailed Narendra Modi as a modern messiah. Modi cornered the credit for even projects initiated by the LDF government in Kerala.

What was essentially a political visit, designed to woo a largely BJP-unfriendly Kerala, was choreographed in such a way that it seemed like Kerala was being asked to be grateful for the Prime Minister’s many favours, not just in the form of trains and railway lines but also as smartphones and digital money transfers.

Union Minister for Railways Ashwini Vaishnaw, a former IAS officer, asked the packed audience to flash their smart phones and said: “Thank the Prime Minister. Because of his Make in India programme, today 99 per cent of mobile phones are made in India.” Mobile phone industry is employing about 10 lakh people, Vaishnaw said. The export of smart phones, he said was close to one lakh crore rupees.

“This the power of a visionary. When a visionary takes responsibility for a sector, (he) converts that sector into a totally new sector,” the union minister said.

It was in mythical terms that the young minister spoke of his Prime Minister. He said the leaders of some developed countries had fallen off their high perches watching Modi’s miraculous feats.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan during the launch of various projects, in Thiruvananthapuram, Tuesday, April 25, 2023. Photo: PTI

“Very recently ministers of some very rich countries ask, how in India the Prime Minister presses a button and the money goes directly into people’s accounts. People are so curious about it,” he said of the Unified Payment Interface (UPI) developed by the National Payment Corporation of India.

In contrast, Ashwini said the world’s most developed countries “issue cheques through post offices”. “Here our Prime Minister created the Digital India programme in 2016 and a single press of the button and whatever amount has to be transferred it goes straight into the bank accounts of the people,” he said, conveniently masking the fact that the work on the UPI had begun in 2012.

Now the miracle man who starred in Vaishnaw’s modern ballad himself came before the people and spoke of the things he was doing for Kerala. “You might have known that few days ago a G-20 meeting was held at Kumarakom. Many such meetings have been held in Kerala. The objective of these meetings was to introduce Kerala to the world,” Modi said. “In my ‘Mann ki Baat’ talks, you might have noticed, I regularly speak about Kerala and it’s self help groups and the products they make,” he added.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who had carefully created the image of a pro-development leader over the last seven years, did not stand a chance. Nonetheless, Pinarayi did make an attempt to remind the people that the Digital Science Park and Kochi Water Metro were the initiatives of the Kerala Government. It even sounded politically smart when he said: “I want these to emerge as models for the entire country.”

When his turn came, Modi presented the Kochi Water Metro as a product of his Make in India campaign and the Digital Science Park as a result of his vision to transform India into a ‘one trillion dollar’ digital economy by 2025.

Then, not by contradicting but by seconding Pinarayi’s words, the Prime Minister effectively appropriated credit for the two unique projects. “I want these two projects to be models for the rest of India,” he said, parroting Pinarayi. But the way Modi said it, his words sounded like: “See, under my guidance Kerala has developed these projects. Now I want the rest to follow suit.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi during flagging off of Kerala’s first Vande Bharat Express, in Thiruvananthapuram, Tuesday, April 25, 2023. Photo: PTI

By quickly providing Kerala a Vande Bharat train, Modi had virtually rendered useless the most potent argument Pinarayi had to stake claim as Kerala’s greatest ambassador of development: the Rs-63,941-crore semi high speed SilverLine project.

On Tuesday, Modi rubbed it in further. He said when the work on increasing the sectional speed between the 320-km Thiruvananthapuram-Shoranur stretch was complete, a semi high speed train would run from Thiruvananthapuram to Mangalore. The Union Railway minister said that the Rs-381-cr sectional work would be completed within four years. He said the Railway would install world class signalling systems, change track geometry, remove curves and straighten the tracks. Once these are done, it is claimed that a Vande Bharat train could reach Kasaragod in five and a half hours from Thiruvananthapuram. SilverLine it is said would take just four hours to cover the distance but at a cost of nearly Rs 64,000 crore.

Significantly, Pinarayi did not raise the SilverLine demand during the meeting.

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