The dramatic and speedy transformation brought about by Modi’s development model in Gujarat is best illustrated by the exponential growth of incomes and self esteem among the people of Rann of Kutch – the world’s largest salt desert. Till about 10-12 years ago, this area was considered among the most backward in Gujarat with very poor road connectivity and negligible civic infrastructure.
This border area has a preponderant Muslim population. Village Dhordo which is the nerve centre of this region, is 90 percent Muslim and 10 percent Hindus of artisanal castes. The latter are mostly scheduled castes that produce their own distinct crafts including leather products.
It all changed dramatically when the Modi government began to provide world class road connectivity to the entire Kutch region along with 24x7 power and clean water supply to the remotest village of this desert land. With it came mobile phones, internet, schools, health centres, banks ATMs, refrigerated milk collection centres and much else.
But the most dramatic change came when starting in 2005 Modi decided to host an annual Rann Utsav (Festival of Rann) and promoted it through a very creative and high profile ad campaign anchored by Amitabh Bachhan on TV and other media. The very salt desert that was the source of anxiety and fear developed as a major tourist attraction. Even the local people were surprised because none of them ever ventured into the salt desert, and certainly not at night.
The Greater Rann of Kutch spans an area of 7505.22 sq kms while the Little Rann of Kutch occupies 4953 sq kms and is spread out in the districts of Surendra Nagar, Banaskantha, Patan, Kutch and Rajkot. It is well known for its wild ass sanctuary and flamingos
Nowhere else in the world one finds anything comparable to this amazing geographical tract. It is marshy during the monsoons and turns glorious white during the winters and summers. In the monsoon months, the flat desert of salty clay and mudflats fills with standing water from the sea. It is reputed to be the largest salt desert in the world spread on both sides of Indo-Pak border. On its southern edge are Banni grasslands. This region is also a home to a wide array of flora and fauna not found elsewhere.
Two main occupations of the people of this region have been animal husbandry and producing the famed handicrafts of Kutch. However, since the connectivity was poor, there was no way to market a perishable commodity like milk. As far as handicrafts were concerned the Muslim women who produced the most elaborate embroideries never ventured outside their homes. Either the merchants from Delhi and Mumbai would come and buy their crafts at dirt cheap prices or scheduled caste families of the region took local crafts to distant cities of India and vended them mostly on footpaths. Due to very low incomes and paucity of avenues for regular earning, people were abandoning their villages and moving to cities in search of livelihoods, especially during drought years. The salt desert was seen as a curse because it did not support any vegetation, except the grasslands in the southern region. In fact, the continuing spread of the salt desert kept people petrified that one day their villages would be swallowed by it. In 1979, a huge cyclone in the area had wiped out many villages. The people of the area lived under constant fear that it was their turn next. The increasing salinity of the desert threatened to swallow these villages.
How Modi Discovered the Unique Beauty of the Rann
There is a story behind how Modi discovered the unique beauty of this region. Some 25-30 years prior to becoming the chief minister of Gujarat, Modi had visited this area as an RSS pracharak. While living in those back of beyond villages, one full moon might he ventured into the desert which the local people avoided as a fearsome place. He was awestruck by its unique beauty because in winter months when the sea has retreated, it leaves behind a vast spread of dried salt crystals that shine like diamonds under moonlight. The landscape feels as though you are walking on the moon or some resplendent planet. Modi told me he spent long quiet hours soaking up that heavenly beauty and that this magical experience left a deep imprint on him. When as C.M., he decided to prioritize development of backward regions, he chose to promote tourism in Rann not just by marketing its exquisite arts, crafts, music, dance and unique architecture but also the most unique feature of Rann - its salt desert come alive with diamond like brightness on moonlit nights.
The local people themselves didn’t believe at first that this venture would succeed, nor did any of tourist department officials see much potential in it. But Modi was far sighted enough to invest his personal time and energy into promoting it. Apart from the astute ad campaign featuring Amitabh Bachhan, year after year Modi not only came to inaugurate the festival but also to camp in the specially created tent city of Rann Utsav for a certain number of days. That automatically brought in a lot more people, including government officials. The special development fund earmarked for Gujarat’s backward coastal regions were used for giving a new lease of life to this region, hitherto considered a menacing wasteland.
Modi’s ability to recognize the unique potential of each region comes from the fact that as an RSS pracharak, he has travelled and lived in every nook and corner of India, interacted and lived with ordinary people, experienced their travails and tribulations first hand and thought deeply over the inner strengths of each region and community so that when opportunity comes, he can easily draw from those memories and harness those strengths. In his own state of Gujarat he is familiar with the remotest nook and corner and has experienced the diverse cultures of its people intimately.
In the Words of Sarpanch Mian Hussain
Here is the story of the transformation of Dhordo and neighbouring villages as seen through the eyes of its highly respected Sarpanch Mian Hussain. His family has for generations reared cows and buffaloes. He says Banni was once called the ‘river of milk and butter.’ But that by itself did not produce any prosperity because they did not have access to any market to sell their milk. Milk being a perishable commodity, the absence of good connectivity meant that the only thing they could sell was ghee – but that too with each household carrying it personally to the nearby markets. They were not part of any economically viable supply chain. The area had no roads. Like most of India’s border regions, this area too was sorely neglected. In Husain’s words:
There was no life here. Despite being an area specialising in animal husbandry, there was not a single veterinary hospital for our animals. As a result, people began losing interest in keeping large herds. But all this was reversed through a series of determined steps starting with high quality road connectivity to the last village.
The roads were accompanied by 24x7 power supply. With these two basics came modern dairies that set up chilling plants and milk connection centres from where the collected milk is rapidly transported to high tech milk packaging and processing factories. Modiji invested heavily into improving the health of our cattle, so that their milk yields increased. In addition, the state government gave major support to spread of milk processing plants. Every single village has a refrigerated milk collection centre so that not a drop of milk goes bad. The milk that sold for Rs. 10 a litre just 5-6 years back, is selling at Rs. 35-40 a litre in 2013.
As a result, people have started keeping larger herds. Consequently, the price of buffaloes has also gone up, especially since Narendra Modi began advertising the Banni buffalo in many of his speeches. Earlier no one knew about their special qualities. This particular pedigree can survive in the 50 degree centigrade heat of the desert as well as in freezing winter. It has been winning awards in cattle fairs and is now much in demand in other countries. What is more, the milk has certain therapeutic qualities which helps the body fight against infections. We feel so proud that Modi ji has not just made the entire world aware about the Banni ki Bhains (Banni Buffalo) but also raised our own awareness about its unique qualities. The younger generations were moving away from these occupations when he reversed the trend and made us proud of our special heritage. They have also come to value the grasslands of Banni which provide pesticide free fodder to the animals.
The organic grass of this region is unique in nutritional value; its rotis, etc., are a local delicacy. In times of grain shortage people of this area have often survived on rotis made of this grass. There are 30 varieties of grass and the best quality is grown in Banni.
But this was just the start of the prosperity story. Narendra Modi is credited with having revolutionized the economy of the area by starting the Rann Utsav in 2005. This launched this hitherto backward most region onto the international tourist map in a big way. According to Mian Husain,
None of us villagers ever ventured into the salt laden desert because of the fear of getting lost in the wilds. We ourselves did not know of its unique splendour. But during his earlier travels, Narendra Modi had apparently experienced the beauty of the Rann in several forms. Firstly, the sunrise and sunset at Rann is an exhilarating sight. And then at night, especially on a full moon night, the entire Rann shines bright as though the starry sky has come down on earth. The night sky too when watched from the Rann is an out of the world experience. None of us had ever dared venture anywhere near the Rann at night. We are amazed how Narendra Modi discovered its beauty and decided to invite the whole world to come and partake in it. Dhordo for instance is a tiny hamlet with a total population of 500 people but today you press D on Google and one of the first entries will be of Dhordo with innumerable hits. Modi ji is a real parkhi (one who has a fine sense of assessing the worth of people and things).
He had stayed in this village much before he became CM. When he visited nearby Khawda village for the first time after becoming the chief minister, he was passing through Dhordo and he remembered my father. He asked his officials to trace his “old friend Gulbeg”. The local MLA told him, "Sir he expired some years ago." So he asked: “Who is there in his family now?”
He was told, his son Mian Husain is the sarpanch of Dhordo. So he called for me and told me that he used to come to our house when I was a small kid- this was sometime in the 1970’s or even earlier than that. And yet 30 years later he remembered everything about our family and the “mehman nawazi”( tradition of honouring guests) of our father. He had apparently stayed in our house and shared meals with my father.”
When he came for the first Rann Utsav, Modi visited Mian Hussain’s house again so that he could meet the entire family of his friend Gulbeg. Villagers say he is the kind who never forgets any one with whom he has forged a relationship.
All Round Development of Rann Villages
Before the start of Rann Utsav, the area got quality roads in each village of this remote region. They got the best possible water supply system with Reverse Osmosis (RO) Plant that runs with a solar panel. The village has solar lighting on the streets. In 2013, they got a 66 KV electric sub- station. Earlier the power lines used to come from 200 kilometres away. Now with this sub- station, 40 villages of this area have benefitted.
There is a High School in Dhordo now. Their ATM machine also runs on solar power. For dairy farmers, they have introduced a biometric ATM in the village so that they don’t have to travel to Bhuj to get their payments from the milk factory. People can get their payment at their doorstep.
The village now has a Ring Road all around it. Most important of all, they have enough stored water to last two years because in 2008 they constructed several large water harvesting talaabs (ponds). A village elder told me, “Even if it doesn’t rain for two years, we will not fall short of water.
The Rann Utsav
Tourism in Rann, as elsewhere in Gujarat, has grown organically with benefits going to ordinary people. For example, no big hoteliers were brought to this eco sensitive area. During the festival, Gujarat Tourism puts up 450 luxury tents to create a whole tent city which comes alive with a whole array of cultural festivities-local dances, music, mimes and what have you. The Gateway Resort is packed to capacity during that time. The demand far outstrips supply; that is why villagers have been encouraged to provide home stay facilities which give the tourists firsthand experience of traditional lifestyle and culture. Rann Utsav has plenty of good eating joints so home stay hosts offer only morning tea and breakfast. This works out much cheaper for tourists as well.
In order to benefit the local villagers from increased tourist inflow, the Government gave the Dhordo panchayat special funds under the Coastal Area Development Plan to create a special resort called “The Gateway of Rann”. The idea was to create employment opportunities in the village plus a stable source of income for the panchayat. This is a unique Private-Public Partnership (PPP) business model. A similar facility has been developed by Hodko panchayat of the area.
The guest houses in the “Gateway to Rann” resort are constructed in traditional Bugga style, designed and constructed by local artisans. These are very elegant round mud structures decorated with mirror work and traditional paintings, constructed by local artisans with local materials. While they add an exotic touch to the tourists’ experience, seeing their traditional architecture as an object of admiration has enhanced the self-esteem of local communities. Not surprisingly, instead of rebuilding their homes in the new urban style architecture, most villagers have not only preserved their old homes but also extended them to accommodate guests during tourist season.
All the cottages in the resort have modern style bathrooms, stylish furniture, air conditioners etc. The rent in 2013 ranged from Rs.3000 to Rs 6000 per night. Instead of serving touristy food, the government has encouraged people to serve traditional cuisine to guests—all prepared with locally available ingredients. All this enhances pride in the local culture.
Each Bugga cost no more than 2 lakh to build because they used local materials and craftsmen. The 26 lakhs required for constructing the entire complex was provided by the government as a loan to the village panchayat. The management was also handed over to the panchayat. The contract signed by the panchayat stipulates a 40- 30- 30 model of profit sharing- that is, 40 per cent of the income of this resort has to be spent on village development work, 30 per cent is to be put in the Government treasury by way of loan repayment and 30 per cent to be used for running the resort. Hussain says that they constituted a Dhordo Gram Vikas Trust for its management and put all the income into that account. They began making a handsome profit from the first year itself.
People can make a booking for the Gateway to Rann Resort through the Internet sitting anywhere in the world. The Trust has developed a proper website for the purpose which is being constantly upgraded. It even has a payment portal for advance booking. A person can go online and have a full view of the rooms, the overall ambience and the facilities at the resort before making a booking.
The first year they made a profit of Rs. 8,00,000; the second year it was Rs. 26,00,000 and in 2012, they earned Rs.50,00,000. Every year the profits are increasing manifold. The Collector is the Chairman of the Trust since it is a district level committee. Though the Trust let the government know how much money they had made and are willing to transfer its share to the Government’s account as repayment of the loan, the Government had not yet claimed the money, indicating that they are happy to leave the money at the disposal of the village.
There have been tremendous economic benefits flowing out of Rann Utsav. Those with enterprise have set up small hotels. The village women who are into handicrafts now find customers come to their doorstep. Earlier, agents took away these embroidered crafts and sold them in distant markets and the women got a pittance for it. Today their mutva embroidery and mirror work fetches them good prices sitting at home. In addition it has brought international recognition for the village. The Government also built nine handicraft shops in the village. These were inaugurated by Narendra Modi himself. So every household can sell its products at prices determined by the producers. The handicraft makers of this village never had it so good. The longer the Rann Utsav lasts -- the more they earn. It started with a 15 day affair but now goes on for three months.
The festival of Rann comes alive in the evening with desert music and colourful dances. Villagers also set up stalls to sell their crafts and other local products. Dhordo and other neighbouring villages are today world acclaimed tourist destinations. People come to see the unique architectural style of their homes.
Prosperity in the Once Impoverished Rann
When I asked the deputy manager of the Rann Gateway Resort about the extent of income rise in this area, he said in the last 10 years, there has been at least a 25 times increase in income. This was endorsed by other panchayat members who said the incomes have risen exponentially. For example, earlier people in Bhirandiyara village lived in huts made of dried grass. Now they have built 8-10 pucca restaurants and small hotels -- all due to the effect of Rann Utsav. During the Rann Utsav season, they are able to sell mava (a cooked milk product) worth Rs. 50 lakh per month. In addition they sell tea and other snacks.
Consequent to the development of tourism, wage rates have also shot up in the area starting at Rs 400 and going up to Rs 700 per day in 2013. This compares favourably with wage rates in Delhi or Mumbai. Several villagers told me that incomes in the last 6-7 years have gone up exponentially. Someone who was earning Rs. 2000 a month is today earning at least Rs. 50,000 every month.
There was a time people of these villages went out in search of low paying menial jobs because of scarcity of local resources. Today, these very villagers have employed a well paid English educated manager from a nearby city to run their resort, handle their website and take bookings from far away countries. But they are determined not to remain dependent on outsiders for such specialized services. Therefore, they are sending their own children for higher education.
But it is the women who have benefitted the most. Muslim women, unlike Rabri Hindu women, cannot go out to do their own marketing. Now customers come to their homes where many families have set up little showrooms in their own living rooms. Their crafts sell faster than they can produce them because people come here in droves during the festival period. In Dhordo itself, over 25,000 people come to see the village every day -- apart from those who stay over for the night.
Hussain says, “We or our ancestors could never have imagined that Dhordo could get transformed in this manner, that we would become so prosperous -- and that too by getting business and work opportunities sitting at home.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBToU9HwahY)
Not just the Rann, but the entire Kutch region has benefitted from this festival because when tourists come, they land at Bhuj, which has also developed plenty of tourist sites. Then they go to Mandvi for a day and then move on to Khawda and Dhordo, etc. Even the little chaiwalas and street vendors bless Modi who has provided them a stable source of income. Ask the smallest man in Kutch and he will tell you what a blessing the Utsav, as well as the general inflow of tourists and good connectivity, have meant for each village in this region. “May Khuda bless the man who did it all” is a common sentiment in this region.
As elsewhere in Gujarat, in Banni too, the gram sabha and panchayat decide the development priorities of the village. The water management systems are handled by the WASMO Committee (Water and Sanitation Management Organization). Their water filter plant works on solar power. It was installed in 2006 and has worked without any hitch or breakdown since then. In fact, villagers told me it hasn’t even required any additional money for maintenance. The village contributed 10 percent of the cost, i.e., Rs.50,000. The rest, 90 percent, was given by the Government. The solar panel automatically starts working when the sun rises at 7 am. It works even in cloudy weather. Even the two motors that pump the water from the filter plant to the village homes run on solar panels. If there is any problem in its functioning, the village will get together and mobilize the funds to get it repaired.
I noticed that even at night the village streets were totally garbage free because the panchayat had made proper arrangements for garbage management but they were planning to improve village sanitation still further by setting up a hostel for cattle, as had been done in a village in Banaskantha district. The idea of a cattle hostel also emanated from Narendra Modi in order to make the village life hygienic and also to reduce women’s drudgery. After Dhordo, I visited the cattle hostel in Banaskantha district and found the arrangements both sensible and innovative. The panchayat earmarks a portion of land on the outskirts of the village to build hygienically maintained animal sheds built with a government grant. Each family ties its cattle in these well lighted and well aired sheds unlike the dark and dingy animal sheds people have at home. Family members come to this shed in the morning and evening to bathe and feed the animals as well as milk them. The sheds are constructed with a water trough in front of each animal. This ensures that the animal is never thirsty and therefore gives plentiful milk. A veterinary service is attached to the animal hostel so that the health of the animals is properly looked after.
The animal dung is used for producing gobar gas and light with a dedicated plant for this purpose built as part of the animal hostel. Each animal has sufficient space for standing, sitting and resting unlike in cramped animal sheds most people have at their homes where animals have to often take turns at resting and sleeping. This too improves animal health.
Equally important, it saves a lot of labour for the women of the household. When the animals are tied at home, they have to tend to them all through the day. But in the animal hostel – twice a day visit is enough. For the rest, the attendants at the hostel take care of the requirements. The animal dung also provides large quantities of organic manure to the village while keeping the animal excreta far away from the living quarters in the village. This ensures that the village is much cleaner and each house doesn’t become a fertile ground for breeding flies and mosquitoes.
Thus it is a win-win for all. Not surprisingly, nearly 90 per cent of households had deposited their cows and buffaloes in the hostel even though membership is optional. People told me, it’s mainly those families which have only one female member and just one milk animal that kept their animal at home. The rest voluntarily put their farm animals in the common living space. This innovative idea of having in every village a cattle hostel has been added to the aspirational list of many villages in Gujarat.
Mian Husain added: “Earlier we had begun selling off our cattle to get into other occupations. Now people are buying more cattle. At Rs. 10 a litre our milk used to sell cheaper than a Bisleri water bottle which people buy at Rs. 12-15 per litre. It wasn’t even covering the cost of milk production. But now we are getting Rs. 35 per kg. On top of that the coop milk dairy that collects our milk gives us an yearly bonus.”
Earlier people of this area had begun to abandon their villages due to water scarcity, especially during drought years. But now the pure Narmada waters are supplied for drinking purpose to villages of this region through a pipeline. Every village has a huge water tank for storing drinking water. Khwada has a 1 crore litre storage tank and tiny Dhordo village with a population of 500 has 25 lakh litre storage. For all other purposes they have several big talaabs (ponds). Hussain says,“Water is the main instrument of survival. If there is no water, there is no life. Now we have both water and employment.”
New Business & Employment Opportunities
Apart from other new occupations, a factory set up by industrialist Kanti Sen Saraf is not far from this area. Industries came Kutch in a big way only because Modi regime provided quality infra structure to this hitherto barren and neglected region. Nearly 200 persons from this sparsely populated area work in that factory. Even those with very low education get a minimum salary of Rs. 10,000 per month. The factory has a system of training young people into the skills required by the industry.
Good road connectivity 24x7 power supply, internet facilities etc have opened up numerous new business opportunities for the local people. For instance, Mian Hussain who has studied only upto class 6 has developed business links with the Agrocel Company. He purchased a motor vehicle which works on a monthly contract with Agrocel. It is used for ferrying those who go from these villages to work in that factory. He also own three water tankers. A number of people in Dhordo village own trucks. I saw a whole fleet parked on the outskirts of the village in a neat well- paved parking lot. These are all contracted to Agrocel. Earlier there was not a single motor vehicle in the village. Now every single house has at least a motorcycle, while many have jeeps and cars.
Apart from his commercial vehicle, Hussain also owns a Zylo . It works as a multipurpose vehicle. During Rann Utsav he uses it for carrying bottled water and other food provisions. Earlier if someone wanted to buy even a modest vehicle, they had to sell their buffaloes. But it brought no income. Now a motor vehicle is a source of income as well.
Today, the village has Wi-Fi connectivity. Six- seven years ago people of this region had not even heard of these things. Today, all those with educated children have computers and internet at home. Almost everyone in the village has dish TV.
How Kutchi Muslims Relate to Modi
I couldn’t help asking Mian Hussain: “In Delhi we are told that Narendra Modi hates Muslims, that Muslims of Gujarat are all opposed to him. Have you noticed any signs and symptoms of his prejudice against or hatred of Muslims?”
His reply was echoed by almost every Muslim I talked to in that region: “We have never felt that Modi discriminates against Muslims. The Banni area is almost 100 per cent Muslim. In the 40 villages of Banni, our Hindu brothers who live with us from older times are a minuscule minority. Tell me, who is benefitting from all this economic development? Who is getting all the new jobs and new business opportunities? Each one of us is benefitting. If the area is being economically strengthened, who is benefitting from it? All of us who live here! Who is getting all these new facilities if not us?”
I persisted further: “But I’m sure you’ve seen all the media reports about Modi refusing to wear a skull cap. What do you have to say about that?”. This is how Hussain answered:
Modi shouldn’t even be forced or asked to wear a skull cap. What great benefit will come from Modi wearing a skull cap? I’ve met Modiji more than 50 times in the last few years. Every time he comes here, he meets me. Other than that, I’ve attended several meetings with him. I also went to meet him at the “At Home’ function organized by the Governor in Bhuj on August 15, 2013. We consider ourselves very lucky to have a chief minister like him because he has brought about tremendous progress in all of Gujarat, including in our region. We always bless him and pray for his long life.
He too gives us his good wishes saying: “Jeete raho, aage badho.” (Live long and keep progressing). He says he feels very happy to see us do so well. We are small people from a small village but whenever he meets us he addresses each of us by name. What can be better than that? He cherished the memory of his visit 40 years ago to this village. He remembers my father even after so many years. This means a lot.
When he came here for the first Rann Utsav, he said “I’ve organized this Utsav because I want the whole world to come and see the special beauty of Rann, to help get employment opportunities for the people here and uplift the entire Kutch region. When we first heard this, we wondered how this was ever going to happen? Because we had never seen anything happening like this, it was difficult to envisage all this. But today what he said has materialized before the entire world. Today the whole world is saying what he said then.
In 2009 Modiji brought his Chintan Shivir (a three day brain storming camp Modi used to organize every year with IAS officers of all ranks along with his entire Cabinet) to Dhordo. Our village became a virtual Gandhinagar for those many days- all IAS Officers, each and every minister was in Dhordo. The officers also loved it because every morning they would go to Rann and do yoga there. After that in 2010 the BJP Working Committee meeting was also held in this village. And then Modi Sahib comes for all the Rann Utsavs. It is his hard work which has paid off and brought about such a transformation.
In the 2012 election 50 per cent of Muslim vote from this area went to BJP even though traditionally this area was a Congress bastion. People are seeing that what earlier regimes did not do in 60 years has been achieved in 10 years. The Rann and the Kutch have always been there but no one ever recognized their worth. We had hardly any sources of income. The area was very impoverished. During drought years people simply perished or left the area.
In recent years this region has also witnessed major improvements in education. Earlier the girls hardly went to school. But look at the changes in my own family. My daughter is the first girl of this village to have passed class 12 exams. She became a media celebrity for that reason. After she did her Senior Secondary, I urged her to study further as in class 12 she had secured 95 per cent marks. She received all round encouragement to bolster her confidence. When Amitabh Bacchan came here he too praised her. That encouraged other children to study. Now she is studying in college.
My second daughter is now studying in class 12. I’ve brought two sisters from Bilarataluka in Sabarkantha to come and give private tuitions to girls of this village in addition to what they study in school. We want to give a good education to our children. Several youngsters are now going to college from this village.
Today every single girl child of this area is going to school. Our primary school has 85 children but only two teachers. We are getting full support from the Government to make our Girls’ School a model one. We have been provided all facilities like computers and arrangement for online learning but there is a shortage of good teachers in some of the village schools. Our Education Minister has promised us that if enough children from here go for higher education, they would also set up a college in Dhordo. Only if our children study well now will they have a proper future. As Rann Utsav grows, it will need professional managers, it will need educated people to run it. How long can it use unskilled people with low education? If our children don’t get good education, they won’t get good jobs in Rann Utsav. They will have to work as unskilled labour.
Dhordo is going to become a Singapore. Right now private company operators arrange for helicopter rides during Rann Utsav. We want our village people to also take joy rides in a helicopter. What can be better than the fact that a man who did not even own a bicycle ten years ago is now enjoying helicopter rides in his own village?
Our primary health centre works well. There is another medical facility in nearby Hudka village. But for child deliveries we go to Bhuj. The government ambulance responds to all our requests promptly including when we have to take women to Bhuj for delivery. But we have kept a special ambulance in the village also.
The veterinary service, including an ambulance for animals, is available on call. One phone call and the Vet come to the village. Since our cattle are not kept tied, they roam freely and don’t catch diseases as often as tied animals do. The milk they give is also superior- it combats infections. No matter how many new businesses we start, our basic foundation is pashu palan (animal husbandry). When we see a good buffalo, we want to own it.
I own ten buffaloes. We consume a good part of their milk at home and sell only about 10 litres a day. It is very important to give our children good nutrition. It’s not good to sell all the milk.
I have 5 children- three daughters and two sons. All of them are getting good education. This village started off with 15 households. Now there are 75. We have been settled in this village for about 400 years. When we see daily progress taking place in our village, we remember our ancestors. They could not have even imagined all these changes. Seeing it all their atma, their rooh (soul) must feel sense of satisfaction.”
Mian Husain then showed me an album of photographs. It has pictures of Narendra Modi sitting in his house writing in the visitors book. The album also has photos of former President Abdul Kalam, Amitabh Bacchan and many other dignitaries who visited this village in recent years. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvXTMesaea8)
Looking at that album, Mian Hussain says: “Who is the one to have brought them all here? Narendra Modi. None of them would have ever set foot here without his efforts. He is the one who with his hard work put our little village and this region on the international map.”
I was then shown the visitors’ book in which Modi wrote the following words on 22 February 2008: “Today I got the opportunity to visit Mian Husain’s house. He gave me the same kind of welcome that his father used to once give me. The White Rann of this region will prove to be the new sun of Gujarat tourism. The kala, sanskriti (art and culture) of this region are unique.” (Translated from Hindi)
Hussain says, “Even my father used to work hard to promote local crafts. Several dignitaries gave him certificates of honour. But all of us remained poor. None of my father’s efforts translated into development of the village. All this prosperity came in the last 10 years due to Modi ji’s efforts.
In his inaugural speech during the first Rann Utsav Modi explained the rationale behind creating a grand event to celebrate the natural beauty of this awesome salt desert:
If I were to put up publicity posters inviting people to come and see the desert, no one will bother to come. But when we organize several colourful events and build the required infrastructure for them, then it enables tourism to flourish effortlessly in an organic manner.
This is why we are promoting the unique beauty of this desert by organizing a major festival. The desert has its own unique beauty. If we want we can convert this desert into India’s Toran. (auspicious archway)
We will have to learn to appreciate and enjoy special features of the desert. We have to cultivate this taste. If we want to force the world to recognize the beauty of this unique desert, we will have to create a conducive environment for them to enjoy the various moods of the desert, especially the splendour of its moonlit nights. Only those who have delved deep into the beauties of this landscape know how incredible are its splendours. We have to showcase every aspect of this region – including the wild life of this area as well as its diverse flora and fauna. The United Nations dedicated 2006 as the year of the Desert. In that sense we are two steps ahead of the United Nations...”.
The story of Rann of Kutch and Dhordo village encapsulates the story of Gujarat’s bottom-up development model under Modi’s term as chief minister of the state. Its visible success has been a major factor in paving the way for Modi’s rise to power as the Prime Minister of India in May 2014.