Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday raised the pitch for "power-for-prosperity" as he sought to convince the people of Arunachal Pradesh of the benefits of exploiting the state's hydropower potential.
Addressing a huge turnout at the Indira Gandhi Park in state capital Itanagar on Arunachal Pradesh's 29th Statehood Day, he cited the examples of two neighbouring nations, Bhutan and Nepal.
"I know the people of Arunachal Pradesh have certain reservations about some hydel projects. There were similar issues in Bhutan and Nepal, which have as much water resources. We negotiated with them. We are trying to set up power companies there. Through electricity alone, Nepal and Bhutan's economic condition will improve. They will transform into sukhi (happy) nations. You, too, have similar takat (strength) and you need to realise it to ensure progress and prosperity," Modi said.
The underdeveloped frontier state, which China insists is part of its territory (See: China formally protests PM's visit to 'disputed' Arunachal), is considered the potential power hub of the country, with capacity to produce around 60,000MW. To harness this potential, the state government has signed nearly 160 memoranda of agreement with public and private power companies.
However, most of these have not taken off because of various factors, including protests. Even Mohesh Chai, a BJP legislator from Tezu, said the huge number of projects cause concern.
Modi's push is unlikely to go down well in downstream Assam where a section is opposed to big dams coming up in Arunachal Pradesh. This section has already stalled the construction of 2000 MW Lower Subansiri project coming up on the Assam-Arunachal border.
In his 40-minute speech, Modi mostly dwelt on gati (momentum) and urja (power). He promised adequate protection to those affected by hydel projects. "I assure Arunachal Pradesh will light up the entire country. If you recognise your strength, the fate of Arunachal Pradesh will change (for the better)," he said.
Modi's all-out push left those opposed to big dams wondering what happened to his no-big-dam line during electioneering for the Lok Sabha polls. "Today he only talked about how we will benefit but was silent on the size and scale of dams. It seems like a U-turn," said Takar Pertin of East Siang district.
Modi's visit had several firsts. It was his maiden visit to the state after assuming office in Delhi. He is the first Prime Minister to grace Statehood Day celebrations. He also inaugurated the first train linking Delhi with Itanagar (Modi inaugurates train service from Arunachal to Delhi).
The visit comes ahead of Modi's trip to China in May.
Arunachal Pradesh governor Lt Gen (retd) Nirbhay Sharma, chief minister Nabam Tuki, union minister for railways Suresh Prabhu, union minister of state for railways Manoj Sinha and union minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju were among those present at the function.
Modi also took some not-so-subtle digs at the ruling Congress during his whirlwind visit. His appeal to the people to keep an eye on development funds so they are not misused or go into someone else's pocket was one.
"Pai pai ka hisab hona chahiye (every paisa should be accounted for). You have understood what I mean (in an oblique reference to the alleged misuse of public money). You should also take hisab from me," Modi, dressed in Nyishi headgear and jacket, said soon after apprising the crowd about a budgetary provision of Rs53,000 crore marked for the development of Northeast in 2014-15.
In another dig aimed at the Congress's garibi hatao (remove poverty) slogan, he said poverty could be eradicated through education, connectivity and electricity and not through narebazi (sloganeering).