It is not surprising that the visit of Donald Trump scheduled for 24th of this month has already sparked a ruckus. But the visit of the head of the world's most powerful state is hitting headlines and trigerring controversy not because of its political dimensions. Nor is the debate about the grand rally of a lac plus strong crowd arranged to receive Trump at Sardar Vallabbhai Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad, or that it is going to beat the 'Howdy Modi' gathering during Modi's visit to Houston.
This debate is about something else: a 4-feet high and 500-metre long wall is being constructed with 150 labourers busily at work day and night, to cover the slums lying in the city for decades from Trump's view, when he goes around the city. Although Ahmedabad is one of the best industrial cities of the country, it is clear that that is not the reason why the host Narendra Modi is insisting on Trump's visiting the place.
The reason for carefully including Ahmedabad as the chief item of Modi's itinerary is to ensure that he sees the capital city of Gujarat, where Modi had reigned as chief minister for 12 years and which made him what he is today. At the same time, Modi may also be confident that the place where he can mobilise for a show case event at short notice three or four times the crowd that had greeted him in the US city. The cost of the wall has not yet been revealed, but is certain to be running to crores. But more serious is the fact a slum cluster has been existing for years in the neithbourhood of the Patel Cricket Stadium - said to be the world's largest - and thousands of human beings live there in conditions so pathetic that they are to be hidden by a wall. And 45 families who live along the sides of the boulevard where Trump will pass through, have also been evicted. Within days, their huts will be demolished! And they will have to find for themselves a place to live in.
In the number of undeclared slums, Gujarat stands third in the country, with 3.84 lac people living in 2,058 slums. This constitutes 10 per cent of the total undeclared slums of the country. The two states that stand ahead of Gujarat in this are Maharashtra and West Bengal. Gujarat accounts for 2.48 per cent of slum-dwellwers of the country. And this when Narendra Modi claims that a rehabilitation plan for them is under implementation. Out of 16.80 lac slum-dwellers in Gujarat, only 10.14 lac are literate. Dalit-tribals comprise 20 per cent. According to NITI Ayog's statistics for 2019-20 about sustained development, Gujarat stands 9th when Kerala tops the list. But it is also noteworthy that in the matter of slums within Gujarat, Ahmedabad comes only after Surat. Thus the paradox emerges that it is after having ruled a state for twelve long years and having given a 'shining' rule for the country for nearly six years that Modi is now constrained to hide the eyesore with a wall.
It would be pertinent to ask why Modi, who sat in office for 12 years without even an opposition worth the name, could not take his home state of Gujarat, the state of Gandhi and Sardar Patel too, above the national average in the matter of development. This can be attributed only to the fact that while being engrossed in the effort to make the state and the entire country an experiment lab for Hindutva, he and RSS forgot its own people.
While building the grand 'statue of unity' in the name of Sardar Vallabhai Patel at a cost of 3,000 crore rupees, Modi did not remember the millions of ordinary and poor people. He is one who goes verbose about his childhood as the son and helperof a tea-shop owner. He also keeps claiming to hail from a backward caste family. If that were so, why wasn’t he able to at least accommodate the Dalits and adivasis - the backward of the backwards – in habitable homes? At the least when he squandered Rs 1,10,000 crore for the Ahmedabad-Mumbai high-speed train – which experts had pointed out would be entirely uneconomic - what justification does he have not to allocate at least a tenth of that amount for slum-eradication and the rehabilitation of slum-dwellers? Most recently, despite his playing all the demogagic cards in his possession, he and his party had to concede defeat to Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi, and he should take a lesson or two from there. And the sooner his party and his government learn that lesson and strive to address the burning issues of the sidelined sections the better for them.