I’ll take you almost 17 years back in time. It was the 26th of January 2001.
I was eight years old and my first memory of that day was my mother picking me up and running; I don’t know where and I don’t know why. I didn’t know what was happening because I had been jolted out of sleep.
Frantic shouting was what properly broke my sleep. When I was finally awake, I found myself in the arms of my mother outside the house. The first thing I saw was a building in the distance swaying left and right and then collapsing as if it was built by a kid with building blocks. The only thing that I kept hearing were the prayers that my mother was uttering. I was too young to immediately understand what was happening but I knew something was terribly wrong.
I was in Gandhidham at the time of the 2001 Bhuj earthquake which was just around 40 km away from the epicentre. The state had come to a shocking halt. The estimated deaths ranged somewhere between 14,000 to 20,000. Around 1,70,000 people were said to have been injured. Almost 4,00,000 houses were destroyed. The loss was said to have been of a whopping $7.75 billion. I’d seen the destruction first hand.
It was now when Narendra Modi was called upon to bring a down-and-out state out of death and despair. Before I go further, I have a question for those who oppose him – had you been asked to take up such a task, would you have agreed? No, you never would have.
The fact that he’d accepted to restore the state during such a tragic situation in itself shows his character and love for his home state. I had seen the destruction and so had I seen the incredible manner in which the state was brought out of the calamitous earthquake. We laud Japan for having the ability to rise from the most shattering of calamities but we often forget that the way Gujarat rose from the ashes under the able and hand-on leadership of Narendra Modi is no less amazing.
Here’s an iconic picture of Narendra Modi surveying the damage done by the earthquake –
He didn’t sit in helicopters and conduct aerial surveys but was on the ground all the time. Holidays of officials in the government were cancelled. Narendra Modi himself didn’t celebrate any and solely dedicated himself to relief work. The government worked every day. The people of Gujarat saw this. And they appreciated it.
The media however has never talked of this because they didn’t expect Gujarat would bounce back the way it did. Journalists came to Gujarat expecting the same things they had witnessed in other calamity-hit areas – caste discrimination in relief distribution, absence of district administrators, slow government action, and similar stuff. But what they saw was completely opposite.
Social groups and people were taken alone in the rehabilitation process. There was no discrimination at all on the basis of religion – help reached out to Muslims as much as it did to Hindus. The bureaucracy wasn’t paralysed into inaction. It was a rare sight. And without doubt in just over 4 years the affected areas were not only back to normal but thriving with activity. The World Bank had said that it will take 7 years for the state to completely recover from this tragedy; Narendra Modi’s leadership and the dedicated work of social groups and people on ground did the same in just over 4 years.
Yet, you never hear the media talk of this. Why? Possibly because the media saw what an able administrator Narendra Modi had turned out to be. The media – by and large being pro-Congress – saw that whatever opportunity the disaster had thrown up for Congress to come back to power highlighting the inability of the BJP to lift the state was quashed. Praising Narendra Modi for his efforts would have gone against the political inclination of the media which is why you’ll always hear of the Godhra riots but never of the Bhuj earthquake.
Some people might ask where are facts of how the state was restored. To them I say – experiences have a greater impact than words, so the best would be if you visit Gujarat and see how the state had developed or talk to people who’ve lived through that terrible earthquake and have seen the state revive. I’ve seen the drastic change, which is why I support Narendra Modi and always will because he achieved something most would have found well beyond their capabilities to.
This is why he wins Gujarat because he was there standing with the people of the state during their toughest period.