Narendra Modi steals the thunder at Gujarat agro meet
Gandhinagar: The Vibrant Gujarat Global Agriculture Summit that ended on Tuesday was overshadowed by a man projected by his admirers as India's next prime minister: Narendra Modi.
With Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and ministers from Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh egging Modi on to play a larger national role, there was no stopping the loud pro-Modi slogans in the halls.
Soon after the conference began Monday, the first speaker who received thunderous applause was Madhya Pradesh Agriculture Minister Ramkrishna Kusmariya when he described Modi as "India's future".
So vocal was the clapping and cheering that Kusmariya had to halt briefly for silence to set in at the packed 5,000-strong main auditorium at Mahatma Mandir conference complex.
Badal whipped up another round of frenzy when he began his speech by calling Modi, who was on the dais and paying close attention to every word, as "desh ka mahan neta" (great national leader).
And each time the 85-year-old Badal praised the younger chief minister - "May God give you more strength", "I have great love for Modi" and "Why do you confine yourself to Gujarat?" - the hall resounded with cheering and clapping besides full-throated slogans hailing Narendra Modi.
The admiration for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, who could be projected by the party as its prime ministerial candidate, was evident each time he stood up to speak.
A short movie shown on the occasion compared Modi in a not-so-subtle manner with Gujarat's two best-known icons: Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
After the main session Monday, Modi got off the dais and sat among the mass of farmers - and listened patiently to farmers speaking about their best practices. He later said he had learnt a lot.
Modi refrained from discussing politics except when he, on the concluding day Tuesday, took on his critics for questioning his decision to reward 245 select farmers from around the country each with Rs.51,000 in cash, a shawl, a memento and a certificate for excellence."Why are people criticizing me? Are not farmers from other states a part of this great nation?" he asked in his halting trademark style, drawing more applause. "I am trying to unite. Is that wrong?"
Some of the delegates admitted they were affiliated to the pro-BJP farmers group and that this was a good place to network as the next Lok Sabha election was not too far away.
According to the organisers, some 4,000 farmers attended the event. Virtually all of them came by train, to stay in Gandhinagar for three to four nights, spending no money of their own.
They were put up in different venues, including major temples and dharamsalas. At the venue there was no shortage of tea, coffee and food. The only constraints were of security - when Modi came in and left.
"Hum Modiji ko chahte hain (We admire Modi)," said a middle-aged farmer from Himachal Pradesh. "It will be very good if he becomes the PM."
Two farmers from Tamil Nadu, including one who flew in at his cost, said they were not Modi admirers per se but appreciated the way the show had been held - "although language is a problem".
Even in the four seminar halls, with three of the bigger ones with a seating capacity of 2,500 each, the Modi slogans continued even during discussions on purely farm affairs - although the man was not present.
As a Gujarat official admitted, with farmer delegates representing 542 districts, the Modi message was sure to reach every corner of the country in the run-up the Lok Sabha battle.