Modi’s Himalayan miracle

June 26, 2013 [TOI] --- On the evening of Friday, June 21, as India reeled from the shock of the calamity in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi landed up in Dehradun with a handful of officers. By Sunday, it was claimed that he had rescued 15,000 stranded Gujaratis from the wreckage of Uttarakhand and sent these grateful folks back home.

This miracle was played up in media. But how was this feat achieved in a day or so, when India's entire military establishment has struggled to rescue around 40,000 people over 10 days? 

Reports say that Modi pulled off this coup with a fleet of 80 Innovas. How did these cars manage to reach places like Kedarnath, across roads that have been washed away, over landslides that have wrecked most access routes? 

But let us assume Modi's Innovas had wings as well as helicopter rotors. Including the driver, an Innova is designed to carry seven people. In a tough situation, assume you could pack nine passengers into each car. In that case, a convoy of 80 Innovas could ferry 720 people down the mountains to Dehradun at one go. To get 15,000 people down, the convoy would need to make 21 round trips. 

The distance between Dehradun and Kedarnath is 221 km. So 21 trips up and down would mean that each Innova would have to travel nearly 9,300 km. 

It takes longer to travel in the hills than in the plains. So, assuming an average speed of 40 km per hour, it would take 233 hours of driving to pull off the feat. 

This assumes non-stop driving, without a second's rest to identify the Gujaratis to be rescued and keeping the rest of the distressed folk at bay, or any time to load and unload the vehicles. And forget about any downtime for the gallant rescuers. 

That is nearly 10 days of miraculous work. And Modi pulled it off in a day. 

Actually, in less than a day: a breathless media reported that by Saturday, 25 luxury buses had brought a group of Gujaratis back to Delhi. For some reason, four Boeing aircraft also idled in some undisclosed place nearby. 

Modi, ever modest, himself did not make the claim of rescuing 15,000 Gujaratis from Himalayan disaster in a day. It was likely dumped on a gullible media by his public relations agency, an American outfit called Apco Worldwide. In 2007, Apco was hired, ostensibly to boost the Vibrant Gujarat summits, but to actually burnish Modi's image, for $25,000 a month. 

He is in good company. Apco has worked for the dictator of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbaev, the governments of Malaysia and Israel and the American tobacco lobby. 

For the latter, it set up front organisations to rubbish evidence which proved that tobacco causes cancer. Apco has also worked for pariah regimes like Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan and Nigerian strongman Sani Abacha. 

Its powerful advisory council includes former Israeli diplomats Itamar Rabinovich and Shimon Stein, as well as Doron Bergerbest-Eilon, who was the highest ranked officer in the Israel security agency. 

Apco is credited with Modi's makeover and his holographic campaigns. Before Apco, Vibrant Gujarat was a tame affair: the first three summits generated investment promi-ses between $14 billion and $150 billion. After Apco, in 2009 and 2011, these jumped to $253 billion and $450 billion. 

Apco worked tirelessly to rope in investor interest from America. It also lobbied with politicians in Washington to remove the ban on Modi travelling to the US. The ban was imposed after the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat as Modi presided over the state in 2002. So far, Apco hasn't succeeded in getting Modi a US visa. 

And the Vibrant Gujarat numbers are all hot air. An analysis by my colleague Kingshuk Nag in his biography of Modi shows that only 3.2% of the 2009 number has materialised on the ground. Of the 2011 figure, a mere 0.5% is for real. 

But Modi does not need Apco to lie. In 2005 he announced that state-owned company GSPC had made India's biggest gas discovery: 20 trillion cubic feet (tcf) valued at more than $50 billion, off Andhra Pradesh. This was 40% more than what Reliance had found in the same area. Modi then egged on GSPC to grab projects in Egypt, Yemen and Australia. 

Many suspected that Modi's gas claim was hot air, but in the absence of evidence few could say so. But by 2012, the Centre's directorate general of hydrocarbons (DGH), which analyses and certifies all energy finds, said that it could vouch for only a tenth of Modi's claim: there was only 2 tcf of gas. And that too in areas tough to exploit. 

Meanwhile, under Modi's rousing leadership, GSPC had poured in nearly $2 billion into exploration, much of it raised as debt based on its supposed 20 tcf gas find. When the gas vanished, GSPC went bust. 

To rescue it, Modi asked the company to venture out into more areas, like city gas distribution. There have been problems with these businesses as well, including a very dubious transaction with a company in Barbados. 

In every area the Modi narrative is a tale of bluster and bluff. But his Himalayan miracle is a barefaced, cynical lie. [TOI]


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