You Are Not The First PM To Visit Sundargarh, Mr Modi

India's first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru at the Rourkela Steel Plant on December 16, 1957. Also seen in the picture are his grandson Rajiv Gandhi and then Odisha Chief Minister Dr Harekrushna Mahatab. Pic courtesy: SAIL website
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Bhubaneswar: It seems Prime Minister Narendra Modi will not give up his rhetoric till the last minute of his term. He did it yet again in Sundargarh on Saturday when he claimed that he was the first Prime Minister to visit Sundargarh. This is not the first time that he has made such tall claims without verifying the details.

Addressing a rally there, he said: “Thodi der pehle yehaan mujhey kisi ne bataya ki pehli baar desh ka koi pradhan mantri Sundargarh aaya hai. Ye sahi baat hai? (A short while ago, someone here told me that this was the first time that a Prime Minister had visited Sundargarh. Is this true?) The crowd erupted in raptures of “Modi Modi”, as the prime minister went on: “Jab wo ye keh rahe the, tabhi maine unko beech me hi rok dia, aur maine zara tok diya. Maine kaha, ki Sundargarh me koi pradhan mantri aaj bhi nahi aya hai. Aaj bhi jo aya hai wo to Odisha ka pradhan sevak, aaj apne malikon se aashirvaad lene ke liye aya hai (Even as he was telling me so, I interrupted him and told him that even today, it isn’t any Prime Minister who is visiting Sundargarh. Odisha’s prime servant has come to take the blessings of his masters here.”

The crowd again went into raptures. But little did they know that the Prime Minister’s facts were not entirely correct. While Modi did not specify if he meant Sundargarh town or Sundargarh district, according to a Rourkela-based journalist, Indira Gandhi had also come calling in 1971 and 1974 as Prime Minister.

Senior journalist Rabi Das said she had visited Rajgangpur in Sundargarh district to address an election meeting in 1977, the year the Congress was defeated. “Sundargarh wasn’t a town like it is today. Rourkela was larger,” Rabi said. “Even Rajgangpur was bigger because of the sugar factory Dalmia had built there. Mrs Indira Gandhi addressed an election rally in Rajgangpur and stayed the night in Rourkela.”

The people of Sundargarh district will also recall that India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had visited the Rourkela Steel Plant on December 16, 1957, along with a future prime minister, his grandson Rajiv Gandhi. The steel plant was after all his dream. The first Prime Minister considered the steel industry a “modern temple” for rapid economic growth.

His daughter Indira’s Sundargarh connection does not end there. Shakti Sthal, her memorial in New Delhi, too, has an Odisha connection. The huge ferrous rock weighing over 25 tonnes, installed at the memorial site, was sourced from the mines of Sundargarh. When the then Central government decided to make a memorial for the slain Prime Minister, it wanted to project her as a lady with an iron will. Hence, it was decided to place a monolithic iron ore rock at the site. And the rock was sourced from Barsuan, one of the mines operated by Steel Authority of India Limited, around 100km from Rourkela.