Taking cue from states like Himachal Pradesh and Goa, the Narendra Modi government in Gujarat too is trying hard to promote the state as a major tourist destination in India.
As a part of this initiative, the state government in collaboration with Maharaja Sayaji University, Vadodara, organized a three day International Seminar on Buddhist Heritage, which attracted global attention, with the Dalai Lama as the chief guest.
On the sidelines of the seminar, the Tourism Secretary of Gujarat, Vipul Mittra talked with Sharique N Siddiquie of Zeenews.com about Lord Buddha and his association with Gujarat. Excerpts.
Sharique: How did the idea of organizing a Buddhist convention in Gujarat arise?
Vipul: I had a discussion with Chief Minister Narendra Modi about the ways to develop tourism in the state. He told me that Buddhism offers a lot of scope for promoting tourism. There are a lot of South-East Asian nations like China, Sri Lanka, Myanmar etc. from where Buddhists come to India. So it is a good proposition keeping in mind the huge number of tourists that may find Buddhist sites in Gujarat interesting to visit.
Also, the discovery of Buddha’s personal relics here was not promoted and highlighted properly. So, it was our duty to make the world aware about the relics as the sentiments of a lot of Buddhists are associated with these. There are not many places where the personal relics of Buddha were found so we wanted to put this aspect before world.
Sharique: How do you think Buddhist ideals of peace and non-violence apply to Gujarat- a state that has been infamous for communal violence for the last few years?
Vipul: Gujarat is a very peaceful state. It is a state where people of all communities live peacefully and with a lot of communal harmony and tolerance.
The crime rate in Gujarat is very low as compared to any other state in India. You can see girls roaming around freely in the state even at night. This clearly depicts the peaceful nature of the Gujarati people.
Gujarat is the land of Mahatma Gandhi, so we share and promote his ideals of peace and non-violence. Also, the lions depicted on the Ashoka Pillar are Girnar lions, which are found in Gujarat. This further substantiates that culturally Gujarat is very close to Buddhist ideals and Buddhism.
Sharique: After the visit of Dalai Lama, do you think Gujarat will be placed on the map of top Buddhist sites in India?
Vipul: Yes, it is a great achievement for us to get the Dalai Lama to visit Gujarat and give a lecture here. Dalai Lama is the biggest authority for Buddhists. People like Hollywood actor Richard Gere are among his followers. So, it is beyond doubt that his visit will help us place Gujarat as a major Buddhist destination.
Sharique: What are your future plans to promote Gujarat as a Buddhist destination?
Vipul: We are trying to rope in Amitabh Bachchan as our brand ambassador. We are also planning to build a huge temple at the site, where the relics of Buddha have been found. It will be very beneficial for the tourism in the state as it will be a permanent structure.
We have also got an offer from Sri Lanka to bring these relics there and display it. We are trying to emulate Bihar’s model to develop various Buddhist sites in India.