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Did Modi promote Dholavira, a UNESCO site now, as Gujarat CM? Facts don't tally

 

By Rajiv Shah 
As would generally happen, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tweet – that not only was he “absolutely delighted” with the news of UNESCO tag to Dholavira, but he “first visited” the site during his “student days and was mesmerised by the place” – is being doubted by his detractors. None of the two tweets, strangely, even recalls once that it’s a Harappan site in Gujarat.
Soon after Modi tweeted, a senior Gujarati language journalist phoned up to tell me Modi was “outright lying”, as the site was first dug out only in 1990s, and at that point of time Modi, born in 1951, was surely “not a student”. This journalist insisted, “If you doubt what I am saying, why don’t you ask your friend Suresh Mehta (a former BJP chief minister)?”
I wasn’t convinced. I thought Modi must have visited the spot as a student – after all, students are known to go around in groups to see different spots as part of adventure tourism with little money in their pocket. Hence, I set aside what he told me and didn’t care to phone up ex-Gujarat CM Mehta. What is the point?, I wondered.
However, as I was looking at tweets today in the afternoon, I found another senior journalist, former editor of “Ahmedabad Mirror”, who has just begun a news portal “Vibes of India”, Deepal Trivedie, tweeting, “Here I am putting up cuttings of books, newspapers reporting of excavation having taken place for the first time in #Dholavira in the 90s only. T Joshi of ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) did visit Dholavira in 1967 (Modi ji would have been 17 then) but the first excavation happened in the 90s only.”
Trivedie continued with the chronology of events in another tweet, “1. First field excavation of Dholavira by ASI was in 1990. Modiji born i1950 would have been 40. School at that age? Dholavira was only a village then. 2. Distance between Dholavira and Vadnagar, his town is 332 km. Let's remember he was a poor chaiwallah, then…”
I really don’t know whether to believe Modi or not. He is known to have made several claims, including about his degree, which have been disputed all around. Be that as it may, I found his second statement in Modi’s tweet more amusing, “As CM of Gujarat, I had the opportunity to work on aspects relating to heritage conservation and restoration in Dholavira. Our team also worked to create tourism-friendly infrastructure there.”
One who covered Gujarat Sachivalaya for the Times of India when Modi was Gujarat chief minister, I can surely say this: Modi did visit the site, as the photographs in his tweet show, and he may have made sanctions to create some facilities there so that tourists visited the spot, byt he never ever wanted to promote Dholavira and the importance it should have received.
And, I have reason to say this. I visited Dholavira only once – the year was 2006, around the Dipawali holidays. A friend, who runs an NGO, made arrangements for us in their facility about 50 km from Dholavira. We stayed there overnight, and from there we went to see Dholariva in the morning.
Before going to Dholavira, I had taken a briefing from a senior IAS bureaucrat, Varun Maira, now retired, who was full of praise for the spot. “It’s all White Rann on both sides of the road as you visit Dholavira! What a site it is! It can be an excellent tourism spot, we can have an exotic zone there”, he told me. This is what prompted me to visit Dholavira to see the spot.
I found whatever Maira had told me was absolutely true. I took several photographs on two sides of the road – the White Rann was indeed on both sides of the road. Lovely, I thought. On visiting Dholavira, which I was shown around by a local official, I found several Bhungas had been built next to the Harappan site, where one could perhaps stay overnight. I was impressed. It was indeed being developed into as a tourism spot.
However, I was a little disappointed when the local official, who showed me around, told me frankly that the Bhungas weren’t worth living, as basic things like water and power were “very erratic.” Then this official took me around the site itself, explaining every bit of the spot. I was indeed mesmerised, to use Modi’s words.
Thereafter, I visited the Gujarat tourism department guest house-cum-hotel, Toran, which wasn’t very far away from Dholavira. As I had already informed them,they had made arrangements for snacks for us for a Times of India person. The manager, on learning that I covered Gandhinagar, asked me if I could use my influence to transfer me out from there.
While the guest house had been just renovated, the manager blurted out: “There is virtually no electricity here – it comes just for four hours only. Water is a problem. It’s a punishment posting. I don’t want to continue here.” I asked him whether tourists visit here. He told me: “No nobody comes here. Some do go to Dholavira, but never stay here or in the neighbourhood overnight.”
I visited Dholavira a year after I had made the visit to a spot Modi was already frantically developing as a tourist spot in Kutch – a part of the Little Rann of Kutch area. He called it Rannotsav. He had developed a tent city there to stay. I visited the Rannotsav spot the year it was inaugurated by Modi – in the winter of 2005. I stayed back in the tent city, officials there insisted, I should take a feel of it.
I wondered: Why didn’t Modi develop a tent city next to Dholavira? My query revealed that very few people who would visit the tent city as tourists would ever go to Dholavira as well, as it “out of the tourism circuit” and is “very far”. Even now, I doubt, if the Rannotsav tent city visitors ever visit Dholavira.
Even high profile Amitabh Bacchan ads to promote tourism in Kutch, which specifically say (click here and here), “Kutch nahi dekha to kucch nahi dekha”, funded by the Gujarat tourism department, didn’t even mention Dholavira. They just promoted the Rannotsav, the tent city, and the Wild Ass Sanctuary, which is a sensitive area for a rare species! 
No doubt, the Gujarat government did try to promote Dholavira through its the weighty report “Blueprint for Infrastructure in Gujarat 2020” (BIG 2020), released in 2010. However, ironically, the spot in this report was sought to be sold as something like Las Vegas. No sooner I got the this heavy report from AK Sharma, then Modi’s secretary and now in BJP as vice president of UP party, on the very same day I reported about it.
The story, taken as a flier on Page 1 in the Times of India, had this headline: “Now, a Las Vegas in dry Gujarat.” It was planned as a Rs 480 crore project. I wrote, and let me quote, “The zone will also have an 18-hole world-class golf course and will be ‘facilitating all types of gambling for entertainment’ with the exception of ‘speculative activity, for example bets on cricket matches’.”
I further wrote, “While restricting the activities within the ‘exotic zone’, the document also promises bars ‘subject to the conditionality of the law’. With plans to set up a seven-star hotel, the area will be embellished with other activities like discotheques, spa, theatre, library, and a modern hospital to encourage medical tourism.”
Gujarat tourism hotel at Dholavira, Toran, closed for 5 yrs
Interestingly, on the very next day, Sharma recalled all the BIG book he had distributed to senior government officials, even asked me to do the same, which I didn’t comply with, as I needed proof for my story! The BIG book was resent to officials after pasting a white slip on the Las Vegas-type thoughts expressed therein.
The last time I visited Kutch was in winter 2019. We decided to go to the tent city too, about which my family members had heard a lot – apolitical, they hadn’t heard much of Dholavira and seemed least interested in it. At the tent city, we had dinner, but didn’t stay back. The restaurant owner complained, there was a sharp drop in visitors over the years.
Surely, I do regret, the only spot we couldn’t make it was Dholariva, as it was “unapproachable” from the route that we had taken to visit the district’s major tourism spots, including Bhuj’s beautiful historical spots, Narayan Sarovar sanctuary, and the Mandvi beach.

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