Mumbai: "Come to Gujarat, I am constructing a city, Dholera, that's six times the size of Shanghai and two times the size of Delhi," said Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, while addressing the business community at KC College auditorium on Thursday.
Mr Modi, who was chief guest, was speaking at a programme organised by the Indian Merchants' Chamber (IMC), which saw a considerable gathering of the city's traders, businessman and others. During the meet, several traders and businessmen informed Mr Modi that they have shut their shops and markets because of the newly imposed local body tax. "Please give us some space in Gujarat, so that we can run our business there and we will make that place like Mumbai," said a beleaguered member of the crowd.
Replying to this, Mr Modi said, "Why do you need some space? We are constructing a city near the seashore and everyone can be accommodated there." This is not the first time that builders and sections of the traders' fraternity have threatened to shift to neighbouring Gujarat. On several occasions earlier, businessmen have been heard saying that conditions in Maharashtra and Mumbai aren't favourable for the conduct of business.
Mr Modi's speech featured the usual theories about Gujarat's as a model for inclusive growth that the rest of the country should adopt. Not once during his interaction did he compare his state with any other in the country. Rather, his allusions were repeatedly to the sad state of affairs at the Centre. He harped on the state of decline at the Centre, in comparison to his own state, which he claimed is on the path of rapid development.
As in his Kolkata visit, Mr Modi circumvented the prime ministerial query in the city. When someone from the crowd told Modi, "Hamey pradhanmantri dekhna hai (We want to see [you as] the prime minister)", Mr Modi shot back, "Dilli chale jao wahan dikh jayenge, haan bolenge, sunegne nahi, par dikhenge jaroor (Go to Delhi you will see the prime minister there, he may not speak or hear you, but you will see him for sure)."
This was Mr Modi's first public visit to the city after his electoral victory in Gujarat. The auditorium had a capacity of only 2,000 people, but, according to Niranjan Hiranandani, IMC president, there were no less than 7,000 people gathered at the venue, many sitting on the floor or standing. The organisers had also arranged several rooms to view Mr Modi on the screen. According to the organisers, even those rooms were packed.