Modiís hometown adds progress to heritage

Vadnagar in Mehsana has a rich heritage, dating back 4,500 years, but it is only of late that it has started to chart a growth story, one that has been boosted by its identity of being home to Narendra Modi.

Six trains halt at the railway station everyday, ferrying workers and relatives to Visnagar with its copper industries, and Mehsana town. It is easy to miss the brief halt but the heritage is visible all around the station. In a town influenced by Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism, the places of interest include the Sharmishtha lake, the Kirti Torans (victory arches), the Tana Riri garden, a fort with six city gates, the Hatkeshwar temple and a recently excavated Buddhist monastery site.

Industry had largely ignored Vadnagar until April this year, when the Himachal Pradesh-based Himalaya International opened a food processing unit over 55 acres in Sultanpur, investing Rs 200 crore, employing 2,000 people and entering into contracts with local farmers. It has rolled out eatables such as mushroom, milk cheese, potato chips and french fries for Suway and McDonald's. "We also plan to start hydroponic farming and produce lettuce and strawberries," says Manmohan Malik, chairman and CEO of Himalya International Ltd.

A medical college is coming up alongside Vadnagar's two ITIs, arts and commerce college and government polytechnic college. "A budget of Rs 90 lakh has been sanctioned for a medical college," said Rajesh Thumar, mamlatdar of Vadnagar. "There has been talk of a Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation wing too."

"Property prices have risen 20 per cent in the last two years," says Ehsaan Ali Momin, real estate developer of Kesimpa village. Shia Muslims of nearby Kesimpa and Badalpur run most of Vadnagar's businesses, including restaurants, guest houses and shopping complexes. "A lot of money has been pumped into real estate by unskilled labourers from Vadnagar who have come back richer from Saudi Arabia," says Momin.

Narendra Modi studied at B N High School till the age of 15, says Rajendra Modi, a government official. "He then left for Ahmedabad to become an RSS pracharak. He did not return here until his father Damodardas Mulchand Modi died, by which time he was in his forties. Six years ago, he took his mother to live with him."

Though he is rarely here, it is Modi who is credited with all the progress. Vadnagar is part of Unjha Assembly constituency, represented by the BJP's Narayan Lallu Patel, who says, "Before Narendrabhai Modi as chief minister, all Vadnagar had in the name of development was babul trees. After he became chief minister, the town has flourished. A Gujarat heritage centre is being developed at an estimated cost of Rs 100 crore."

For the last few years, the tourism department has been hosting a Tana-Riri Mahotsav, named after a pair of singing sisters with musician Tansen in Emperor Akbar's court. Excavations in 2009 unearthed a Buddhist monastery with relics intact, and the tourism department plans to woo international visitors. "Vadnagar has given us an uninterrupted sequence of structures with stupas intact," says Y S Rawat, head of the Gujarat archaeology department. "There were around 10 Buddhist monasteries that housed at least 1,000 monks. We have unearthed one; the city has gained prominence the world over."

Some of the growth has spilled over to neighbouring areas. Kamaalpur, a village of 2,250 people and 4 km from Vadnagar, is thriving on its prominence and boasts concrete roads. Jowar, bajri, cotton and castor, the main crops, have seen a slowdown in yield because of delayed rains, yet the mood is upbeat.

"Since every family is into milk procurement, we are making do. This village contributes 1,700 litres daily to the Dudhsagar dairy in Mehsana," says J R Patel, retired milk procurement officer at the Mehsana dairy and a Vadnagar resident.

Vadnagar town has a population of around 27,000 and the taluka has 18 villages under it.

"Among the major projects sanctioned are a Rs-31-crore underground sewerage system, and a Rs-7-crore pipeline and water tank," says Mitaben Bhatt, chief executive officer in Vadnagar municipality. "Development of Sarmishtha lake under the Mukhyamantri Shehari Vikas Yojana is going on. Around Rs 8 crore has been already spent on this in the last two-three years."

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