India’s culture, our traditions, and our way of life have been called timeless by travellers of ancient. While people have noted the travelers, not many mentioned the leaders who were at the helm during those times.
Anything associated with Indian culture, be it handicrafts and locally made products – such as Khadi – to products from cottage industries like forest produce was thought to be beneath western standards and therefore, best avoided. Moreover, no concrete steps were being taken to bring back stolen Indian heritage that was being showcased around the world; often displayed as proud colonial conquests.
But, in Gujarat, with Chief Minister Narendra Modi at the helm, the situation was dramatically different.
THE GUJARAT CONNECTION
CM Modi, during his reign, himself a great admirer of India’s vast and vibrant culture had systematically revamped and redeveloped cultural centers across the state. Be it the development of tourism-related infrastructure around the ancient Indus-valley sites like Dholavira and Lothal, redeveloping of the Lakhpat Gurudwara, or building a whole festival around the culture and traditions of the Rann of Kutch.
Besides, he also contributed to the promotion of Uttarayan (where people traditionally flew kites) as the International Kite Festival. Even the Vibrant Gujarat Summits were accompanied by mega exhibitions showcasing Gujarat’s history, it’s culture, geography, and past achievements.
As a result, this cultural connection manifested itself as a newfound pride felt by the Gujarati people. Be it Navratra celebrations or handloom products – through CM Modi’s initiatives, the people found their own expressions of cultural pride and appreciation.
SPEARHEADING CULTURAL REVIVAL
When Narendra Modi was elected as the Prime Minister, his first action – bowing down at the steps of the Parliament – was an expression of unabashed cultural pride and the fearless idea of expressing it; the Indian Parliament is often called the ‘Temple of Democracy’.
Over the last eight years, India has witnessed an unprecedented revival and acceptance of vibrant local culture across the country. This may very well be attributed to the idea that is propagated from the very top – be Vocal for Local.
PM Modi is often seen sporting the attire, headdresses, and local style of the places he visits – be it the Chess Olympiad where he was seen sporting a chessboard pattern Veshti, his visits to Himachal Pradesh when he wears the Kumaoni cap, or the events where PM Modi is seen wearing a complete local attire in the Northeast.
On Women’s Day, he purchased traditional handloom items from small village/cottage workshops which were managed by women – this triggered a flood of orders being placed from across the country and may easily have been a life-changing event for many small artisans. Similarly, in 2015, he urged people to buy at least one Khadi product for Gandhi Jayanti and regularly promoted the same which resulted in a four-fold sale in Khadi between 2014 and 2022.
The PM Modi-led administration has been actively following up with nations around the world for the repatriation of stolen artifacts to India. Due to the Prime Minister’s personal involvement, this push to retrieve India’s stolen heritage has resulted in around 250 artifacts coming home since 2014. That is over 250 in about 8 years, in comparison, just one artifact was returned to India between 2004-2014 (one full decade).
Even during official visits of world leaders to India, PM Modi makes it a point to take them to culturally and historically important locations. Be it Japanese PM Shinzo Abe attending the Ganga Aarti in Varanasi, Chinese President Xi Jinping to Mahabalipuram, French President Macron to Varanasi, or South Korean President Moon Jae into Swaminarayan Temple in Delhi – today, visits of foreign dignitaries are not restricted to the power corridors of New Delhi but are organised to showcase India’s vibrant culture.
MAKING CULTURE ACCESSIBLE
Another important aspect of PM Modi’s approach when it comes to India’s cultural heritage is accessibility. Over the years redevelopment projects have added necessary infrastructure and amenities to spiritual and cultural sites across the country.
Consider for example a visit to the Kashi Vishwanath shrine in Varanasi before 2014. Not only would one have to wait for several days before a train or a flight ticket to be finally booked, but the entire experience would also have been so tiring that one would need a vacation to recuperate – be it the precariously narrow roads, dirty ghats or the never-ending herculean push through the crowds.
Today, however, thanks to the UDAN scheme, airports have come up even in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, the Vande Bharat express – one of the best trains run by the Indian Railways also runs between the National Capital and Varanasi (in addition to a plethora of other new and existing trains).
Once you reach Varanasi, the infrastructure is modern enough to rival some of the best cities in India and abroad but is also designed keeping in mind the requirements of the city – multi-level parking spaces and widened roads have all but ended the traffic woes, and the ghats are now sparkling clean – thanks to the Prime Minister himself picking up a broom while launching the Swachh Bharat Mission from the ghats of Kashi.
The newly inaugurated Kashi Vishwanath Corridor is what steals the show. The dingy alleyways and unkept streets have given way to a state-of-the-art corridor that is equipped with rest areas, museums, hospice spaces, and eating spaces.
The entire process of visiting Baba Vishwanath has been made hassle-free and more importantly an experience where one can learn about the culture and history.
It would have been easy to attribute this to the MP from Varanasi, but, similar redevelopment projects have been successfully completed across the country be it Somnath, Konark, Deoghar, or Kedarnath.
The PRASAD (Pilgrimage Rejuvenation And Spiritual Augmentation Drive) and Swadesh Darshan are among some of the schemes that have helped bring the culture closer to the people and vice versa.
PM Modi even during his monthly Mann ki Baat makes it a point to wish the entire country for a festival or a cultural event that may be celebrated primarily in just one part so that the people are aware of the culture in different parts of India; and proud of it.