On September 14, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese President Shinzo Abe laid the foundation stone for India’s first high-speed “bullet” train running from Ahmedabad to Mumbai. The train, which will cost Rs 1.1 lakh crore, is expected to be completed by 2022, and will cover a distance of 650-km in about two hours – while charging commuters fares nearly equivalent to that of a flight.
The announcement of this high-cost project has led to several questions on social media regarding its necessity, and whether it really helps in building a “New India” and developing the nation, as Modi promises, or whether it is a costly gimmick with little utility outside of rhetoric.
Turns out, Modi himself made his intentions regarding the bullet train rather clear in a 2013 speech, before he became prime minister, at the Indian Merchants’ Chamber Interactive Meeting. In the video (above), starting from 42:25 minutes, he – then the chief minister of Gujarat – speaks of India’s image to the rest of the world. Here is a brief English translation of a part of his speech:
“If we do small things, nothing will happen. We need to think big, we need to think on a large canvas. What we tend to do is, we’ll go ahead by 0.1 percent, 0.2 percent – this will not change anything. We need to think on a massive scale...
One day, while talking to the Prime Minister, I told him, ‘Look, nobody ever talks about China as a whole. It’s not like they show all of China – even they just show off Shanghai to the world.’ So I said even we, as a country, should do some things to show the entire world our power of strength. Why else, on January 26, do we have a show of strength of our military? Is our country only safe if our missiles go through Vijay Chowk? It’s only to show the world that even we have strength. That’s the only reason. And our own people also feel powerful thinking that yes, we have military power. And that is why on January 26 we put on a massive parade to showcase our military strength.
The same way, this is required in the business world as well. So I told the Prime Minister, ‘Do this one small project. Start a high-speed bullet train from Ahmedabad to Mumbai. With that, people will realise the strength of our nation. No one is going to come to sit in the train; (but) we are no less, we also have to do these things.”
This is Modi’s idea of the project, as a beacon to the rest of the world about India’s progress, even if it is not terribly practical for people in the country.
In the same speech, Modi also spoke of another large project with little utility. The “Statue of Unity”, double the size of the Statue of Liberty in the US, he referred to has become the model for the statue of Vallabhbhai Patel to be erected in Gujarat. Intended as the world’s tallest and biggest statue at 182 metres, it will cost Rs 2,989 crores to build. “I want to see the world bowing at its feet.” Modi said.