KEDARNATH: As he laid the foundation stones for five reconstruction projects, Prime Minister Narendra Modi recalled that the Congress, then in power in Uttarakhand, had not allowed him as Gujarat Chief Minister to rebuild the hill shrine of Kedarnath after flash floods devastated it in 2013. More than 5,000 people were killed across Uttarakhand in the floods and several mountain-dwelling communities were decimated by a series of landslides set off by the flash floods.
The Prime Minister, who offered prayers at the famous Lord Shiv temple before launching the projects, said he had rushed to Kedarnath after the floods four years ago and offered to reconstruct the areas surrounding the shrine. The then chief minister of Uttarkhand Vijay Bahuguna of the Congress, now in the BJP, had agreed "in principle," the Prime Minister said, adding that the party's central leadership was alarmed when word reached it.
"In my excitement I shared the development with the media and within an hour TV channels flashed it, causing a storm in New Delhi. They (the Congress-led UPA government then at the Centre) viewed the development with a kind of alarm as they thought the Gujarat chief minister will now reach Kedarnath and mounted pressure on the then state government not to agree to my request," PM Modi said.
He said he had returned disappointed after the Uttarakhand chief minister had to issue a statement saying it did not need the help of the Gujarat government. "I went back disappointed. But perhaps Baba (Lord Shiva) had decided that the responsibility of doing reconstruction work at Kedarnath should be assigned to no one else but to Baba's son," the PM added.
He described the projects for which he lay foundation stones today as ambitious and expensive, but said there would be no dearth of funds to ensure that they are completed on schedule. These include improved facilities for devotees, construction of retaining walls and ghats at the Mandakini and Saraswati rivers, an approach road to the shrine and reconstructing Adi Guru Shankaracharya's tomb which was destroyed in 2013.
"PM Narendra Modi ji came over here for the second time we welcome him and if he will come here again for the third time before Lok Sabha election, then again we will be welcoming him. I have already inaugurated all those projects, then why is he inaugurating it again?" said former Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat of the Congress.
Earlier this year, the BJP swept assembly elections in Uttarakhand, flattening the Congress. The two parties face off again in elections in neighbouring Himachal Pradesh early next month and the BJP hopes to oust the Congress from power in that hill state as well. Crucial elections in Gujarat, to be held before the end of the year, will also be a direct contest between the two parties.
PM Modi had visited Kedarnath in May when the Himalayan shrine was reopened for devotees after remaining closed for six months for the winter. He said today that he once wanted to live there and "spend all my life at Baba's feet."
"Baba perhaps willed it differently... He sent me out to serve 125 crore people of the country as their service is the true service of God," the Prime Minister said.