Vadnagar station, where Modi sold tea, becomes tourism hub; is it a right choice?
The state and central governments plan to develop tourist sites linked to PM Narendra Modi’s life in his hometown Vadnagar as part of a ₹100-crore project
Vadnagar, a small, non-descript town in Mehsana district of North Gujarat was barely known until one of its residents, Narendra Modi, put it on the map after he became the state’s chief minister – and later India’s prime minister.
The ancient town is now all set to get a makeover as the state and the Union government plan to convert it into a major tourism hub as part of a ₹100-crore project.
Among the eight places which will be renovated under the project is the Vadnagar railway station where Prime Minister Modi once sold tea while helping his father run a tea stall there. The project will also cover Kirti Toran, a pair of 12th century columns that now serves as the entrance to the town, Sharmishtha Lake and Hatkeshwar temple among others.
‘Modi magic’ and Vadnagar
The Vadnagar Kumar Shala Number 1, where the prime minister did his schooling is also getting a facelift with an orientation centre, residential accommodation for students and faculty, an open cafe and community green spaces. The classrooms have been made to look exactly as they did five decades ago, when the prime minister studied there. The school is being turned into a ‘Prerna Sthal’ or an inspirational institute.
Over the next year, two students each from over 750 districts across the country will make their way to Kumar Shala Number 1, where Modi went to middle school. The students will be brought here for an orientation programme under which they will participate in yoga classes and outdoor excursions. Besides, sessions on Indian culture and diversity and curated films will be showcased for the students.
In addition to this, a dedicated art gallery for Vadnagar has also been set up on the banks of the Sharmishtha talav (pond) in the town. The gallery’s main attraction is a miniature of a young Modi serving tea at the Vadnagar railway station, with a replica of a tea stall in the background as the original kettle is being kept at the Rail Museum in Delhi.
The town has been in limelight since June 2023 when a documentary on Vadnagar was aired on Discovery Channel declaring it as one of the India’s tentative places in the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. Soon after, a poets’ meet that included a mushaira by popular versifier Kumar Vishwas was organised in Vadnagar following an international conference on archaeological heritage and culture that saw the participation of more than 2,500 experts, academicians and students.
Rise of tourism sector in Gujarat
When Modi took charge as chief minister of Gujarat in October 2001, he had listed Rann of Kutch (and flagged off the festival of Rannotsav that has been happening every year since then), Sasan Gir, a sanctuary for Asiatic Lions, Nada Bet where the LOC between India and Pakistan passes in Banaskantha district, and the Statue of Unity in Narmada district as major tourism hotspots in the state. However, Vadnagar, got enlisted only after he became the prime minister in 2014.
Noticeably, the tourism sector in Gujarat has always lacked lustre as the state is more known for being a centre of industries and trade.
“Before 2002, the growth in the tourism sector was very slow, but it has reached 18 per cent this year,” Mulubhai Bera, the Tourism Minister of the state, said.
“Along with Vadnagar, Girnar ropeway and Shivrajpur beach, Gujarat’s only blue flag accredited beach, are giving Gujarat tourism the impetus it always required. Gujarat has successfully attracted foreign tourist this year,” claims Bera.
‘Many historical, archaeological spots neglected’
However, experts don’t completely agree with the government’s plans to boost tourism in the state and say there are places way more significant than Vadnagar which deserved to be developed as tourist hotspots.
“Gujarat has the longest coastline of 1,600 kilometres in the country. Yet nothing much has been done to promote beach tourism here. Even though the state government stresses on beach tourism, none of beaches in the state has got central funding. For instance, Swadesh Darshan Scheme, a Union government scheme that has funded 10 beach projects in country since 2015-2016, is yet to fund a project in Gujarat,” said Bharat Patel, an environmentalist based in Kutch who works on coastal eco diversity.
“Why not invest the funds on Porbandar instead of Vadnagar. Porbandar is a historical coastal town that has remains of Mughal rule. Besides, it is important for being the birth place of Mahatma Gandhi. So why isn’t Kirti Mandir, where Bapu was born getting a tourism push?” says Patel.
Modi's birthplace Vs Harappan civilization, dinosaur fossil sites
Bhavna, an Ahmedabad-based conservationist who is member of Sarkhej Roza Conservation Trust, a mosque and tomb complex located in Ahmedabad, says the government could have prioritised on places of historical significance.
“Gujarat has a rich historical past. From the days of Harappa civilization to Mughal rule, the state has been a host to all. There are sites, buildings and monuments that stand witnesses to the bygone era. Most of these sites have never been considered by the government to be promoted as tourist spots,” she says.
“The site of Harappan civilization in Dholavira, Kutch, the site of dinosaur fossil eggs in Mahisagar or even the many monuments from the Mughal era have been neglected and are need of funds. Most of these sites are being taken care of by private trusts or individuals and have got minimum or no government support,” she rues.
“There are many tombs across Gujarat. But the Sarkhej Roza is the most important in the history of Gujarat. Sarkhej used to be a prominent centre of Sufi culture in the country where influential Sufi saint Shaikh Ahmed Ganj Baksh lived. It is said that it was the Sufi saint who had suggested Sultan Ahmed Shah, then ruler of Gujarat to set up his capital on the banks of the Sabarmati river. Then emerged a city that later came to be called as Ahmedabad after Ahmed Shah. However, the tomb has never featured in state government’s list of tourist places to be revamped,” adds Bhavna.