Governance in Gujarat under Modi – A Critique

Narendra Modi’s has been trying to portray himself as a development specialist since quite a long time. His ‘Sadbhavna Mission’ was the first open intimation of his larger national dreams. Modi’s supporters have lambasted at whom they call ‘pseudo-secularists’ for ignoring the model governance provided by Modi in the state of Gujarat. They’ve alleged that foreign funded human rights activists have been on a ‘smear Gujarat’ spree since a decade and they can’t afford to think beyond the 2002 Gujarat riots. In the midst of all this action, the larger question lies in scrutinizing the extent to which Gujarat has developed.

It’s indeed true that Gujarat rules the roost when it comes to promoting industrialization and rural electrification but the Gujarat Government’s PR machinery has worked overtime to ensure the smooth burial of the ill-effects of the growth story in Gujarat. What is so inspiring about Gujarat? The Sujalam Sufalam Scam of Rs 1700 crores or the NREGS scam of Rs 109 crores or the Fisheries Department Scam of Rs 600 crores. The reality is that Gujarat is a state which remains soaked into poverty. More than 30% of the population of the State of Gujarat lives in poverty. Numerically that figure is 4 times the population of the United Arab Emirates. As per the Planning Commission, the most backward district in India is Dangs which happens to be in Gujarat. Due to the ill-conceived industrial onslaught launched by the Modi Government in Gujarat, the state has become a nightmare for poor farmers. Heavy land acquisition for industrial projects has left farmers landless and 2.1 million farmers are still awaiting compensation. 16,000 farmers have committed suicide due to stress under the tenure of Mr Modi as CM. A survey conducted by NSS in 2005 revealed that 45% of the farmers in Gujarat wanted to quit the agricultural sector.

The growth rate of Gujarat till two decades back happened to be anywhere between 12-13% (Primarily due to early industrialization) but now it’s down to 11%. 55% of the women living in the state suffer from anaemia and 41% of the children under the age of thee are underweight. As per a report by an NGO named Pratham, Gujarat is worse than Bihar in terms of educational standards. Gujarat was ranked 14th in a list of 17 states on the ‘India State Hunger Index 2008’. It was placed above states like Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh whose score on the hunger index was nearly equivalent to that of Ethiopia. Only 20% of the money pledged in the highly glamorous Vibrant Gujarat summits held in 2003, 2005 and 2007 has been put to work. In 2007, the State Government falsely claimed raising an excess amount of Rs 10000 crores during the Vibrant Gujarat summit. Gujarat still lags behind states like Maharashtra in terms of Foreign Direct Investment. Among 18 big states, Gujarat’s budgetary allotment towards the development of the social sector is ranked 17th. Gujarat is at the bottom of the list in terms of the rollout of NREGA.

The Gujarat Government has failed to live up to the tall assurances it made in 2007. BJP’s Election Manifesto for Gujarat Assembly Elections in 2007 stated that if it was voted to power, the BJP government would establish a SEZ in every district, pilot the growth of the state at 12% per annum, double the GDP and raise the per capita income to Rs 80,000 per annum and above. All this obviously never happened. Narendra Modi promised to build a Statue of Unity in the honour of Sardar Patel and it was supposed to be twice the size of the Statue of Liberty and 4 times the size of Christ the Redeemer but this promise like all other promises was never met. Gujarat has still not enacted the minority scholarship program of the Government of India which was to benefit 55000 people. In government schools of Gujarat, the state government has been trying to build a personality cult around Narendra Modi and has promoted hero worshipping. Chapters have been introduced in school textbooks tracing the life story and achievements of the Chief Minister. This happens to be a kind of narcissism which leaves behind even Mayawati’s obsession for building her own statues. Gujarat has been turned into a laboratory of Hindutva.

Even ten years after the Gujarat riots, people have been living in refugee camps. Muslim ghettoes are assuming Hindu names to avoid being attacked in the future. The state has put into place a blanket ban on cow slaughter thus depriving Dalits of the only meat they could afford to eat. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India indicted the Gujarat Government in 2012 for having caused losses amounting to Rs 16000 crores by favouring industrialists. The Gujarat Government had to suspend the entire opposition from the State Assembly in order to ensure the swift tabling of the report and to evade criticism and accountability. The Deputy Speaker’s post was left vacant by the Gujarat Government for a decade because a member of the Opposition was supposed to occupy the post. The Gujarat Government did not appoint a Lokayukta for 8 years, starting from 2003. In 2011, Governor Kamla Beniwal appointed the Lokayukta without consulting the Chief Minister and his Council of Ministers. Modi lambasted at her and accused her of acting in a partisan manner. He described the Raj Bhavan as the ‘centre of congress conspiracies’. Thus denigrating the highest constitutional office of the Governor of the State.

Modi has crushed all opposition to him from within the party as well. The principle example of this was a split in the Gujarat BJP and RSS camp which ultimately culminated into the ouster of Former Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel and RSS Pracharak Sanjay Joshi. Modi has been totally deserted and has been criticized by hardliners like Uma Bharati who called him a ‘vinash purush’ and stated that she had never seen Hindus living in such a sorry and fearful state as they were in Gujarat. In September 2003 the Supreme Court said that they had lost faith in the Gujarat Government. In April 2004 the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India said in open court that, ‘Modi was like a modern day Nero who looks the other side when helpless children and innocent women are being burnt.’ 2000 cases pertaining to the Gujarat riots were arbitrarily shut down by the State Government in Gujarat. The Supreme Court had to move cases to neighbouring Maharashtra in order to ensure a fair trial. Maya Kodnani (now convicted for the Naroda Pattiya Massacre which led to the death of 35 children, 32 women and 30 men) was made the Child and Women’s Development Minister by Narendra Modi in 2007. When Sonia Gandhi called Narendra Modi a ‘Merchant of Death’, Lal Krishna Advani jumped to his rescue and said that ‘Modi can’t be a merchant of death but he can certainly be Hitler.’

Modi’s biases are clearly visible during the speeches which he delivers at his rallies. During the Gujarat Gaurav Yatra in 2002 after the riots, Modi stated ‘What should we do ? Run relief camps for them. We don’t want to open baby producing centres. Hum paanch, humare pachees’. This comment of his was a dig at the ones who had taken refuge at relief camps after the riots. 2500 people died and 2,50,000 were displaced but Mr Modi felt that the refugee camp inmates were doing nothing apart from having sex and increasing population. He further stated that ‘those who were increasing the population of the state should be taught a lesson’. On another occasion he happily announced that he brought the waters of river Narmada during the Hindu holy month of Shravan and not Ramazan. When the Election Commission decided to not hold elections in Gujarat in the aftermath of the riots due to the prevailing tense situation, Modi hit out at the EC by attacking the then CEC JM Lyngdoh. He said, ‘Is JM Lyngdoh from Italy ? If not then why is he helping Sonia Gandhi. Or is he helping her because they are both Christians.’ When General Pervez Musharraf threatened raising the issue of the Gujarat Pogrom at the United Nations, Modi said, ‘Miyan Musharraf, if you don’t stop pointing your dirty figure towards Gujarat, five crore Gujaratis will not hesitate to cut off his hands.’ Just imagine the furore which would have been caused had such a statement been made by a Governor of a Pakistani State when the Indian Foreign Minister Mr SM Kirshna rightfully raised the issue of the ill treatment being meted out to Hindus in Pakistan or when the Indian Parliament held a debate on the same issue. During his Gujarat Gaurav Yatra in 2002, Modi also said, ‘The day Hindu terrorism comes into being, Pakistan would be wiped out from the face of the world map’. In a speech delivered shortly after a terror attack in Maharashtra, Modi heavily criticized Manmohan Singh and went to the extent of deliberating mocking his faith by sarcastically calling him ‘Sardar Manmoham Singh’ twice during the course of his speech. In that very speech, Mr Modi distorted Lalu Prasad Yadav’s name by referring to him as ‘Lallu’.

Mr Modi certainly never had any control over his tongue but his government was always trying to limit free speech by banning documentaries on Gujarat riots and detaining activists who chose to speak out against his government. Gujarat was the first state to ban Joseph Lelyfield’s controversial book on Gandhi which has now become a rage on the internet. Narendra Modi and his government has subverted all fundamental rights which citizens of India cherish and honour, be it the Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion or even Freedom of Movement which was torn apart when Modi’s bête noire Sanjay Joshi was disallowed from stopping over in Gujarat by the administration. The institutions which happen to be the pillars of our democracy, namely the State Legislature (Inclusive of the State Governor), Judiciary and the Election Commission have all been belittled by Narendra Modi and his team. What remains to be seen is India in a position to defeat a fundamentalist and polarising figure like him. The answer isn’t easy and it’s going to take a while till we get to know the eventual outcome of the Modi saga.

Ram Sethu Controversy

The Central Government seems to be obsessed and infatuated with the theme of status quoism wherein they try to strategically put every contentious issue into the cold storage. This dodgy behaviour is nothing but an appease-all ploy by means of making concocted committees and coming up with pseudo assurances.

Once again a demand has been made to declare Ram Sethu a national monument, a bridge believed to have been built by Lord Ram’s army and is considered sacred by Hindus. There’s no need to shelve the Sethusamudram project. An expert panel appointed by the Prime Minister and headed by RK Pachauri has already yielded and submitted a report in favour of executing the project through Dhanuskodi instead of Ram Sethu. Ram Sethu is considered holy by Hindus who constitute an astounding 83% of the population and it would be highly sacrilegious to tamper with an object considered divine by over a billion people.

Karunanidhi was once blasphemous enough to ridicule Lord Ram by saying from which engineering college had he graduated when he was defending the need for his pet Sethusamudram project. This kind of religious torment for the sake of development cannot be accepted in a pluralistic and secular polity. The Central Government should recognize Ram Sethu as a national monument and shouldn’t go ahead with any developmental activity which tampers or amends it in any form.

How to save the Indian Economy?

India’s growth story ever since de-regulation in 1991 has been both awe-inspiring and meteoric. The pace with which the Indian Economy went on to expand its GDP made the whole world take notice of India’s economic juggernaut. Within a period of decade’s post-globalization, India along with China was labeled as ‘superpowers’ in the making. However, two decades have now passed since the end of the infamous license raj system in India and things seem widely improved but the year 2011 saw a slight dip in the growth rate of India Inc. Analysts say that this down stride is not to be taken lightly and if India Inc intends to keep the cash registers rolling they have to take certain drastic measures or else the alphabet ‘I’ will most commonly refer to Indonesia instead of India on the map of global economic affairs.
There are umpteen reasons behind the stalling or slowing down of the growth process in India. The first and the most evident one is policy paralysis or governance deficit. Leading industry players were the first ones who brought up this issue after an ample number of reformatory measures were put in the cold storage or on the backburner by the Government of India. It’s a world renowned fact that political instability leads to economic instability and India’s fractured polity doesn’t help the cause. Amidst a politically volatile environment, the over embattled Union Government of India has lost the appetite for reforms and a disrupting Opposition only adds to their woes. This problem of policy paralysis can be overcome only when all the stakeholders involved in the political spectrum of India rise above partisan politics and get back to the job of legislating. All parties need to be fully committed to getting the Indian Economy back on track and for this purpose; a broad consensus needs to be evolved among all the stakeholders on key reform issues.

Another major headache for the Indian Economy has been inflation or price rise. This has developed because of the imbalance in demand-supply proportions. Many a times, more of demand and less of supply escalates the price of commodities and items. Several corporations indulge in hoarding to artificially force the prices up in order to register higher profits. The Government needs to crackdown upon all those who indulge in hoarding to keep the prices in check. Secondly, the Government needs to build an investor friendly environment by doing away with complicated rules and regulations which promote red tape to pave the way for the entry of new firms in the industry to increase supply and to bring the spiraling prices down. The complex issue of the ever-growing fiscal deficit has also given sleepless nights to India’s economic policy makers. One of the solutions to the complex problem of fiscal deficit is by cutting down on various subsidies, be it food or petroleum. However, to enact this proposal the Government will need to muster a lot of courage as subsidies happen to be integral electoral issues in India and a reduction in them would mean a substantial vote swing away from the incumbent government.
A string of more problems faced by the Indian economy are primarily interrelated. They are the issuing of pink slips to employees, sharp fall in per capita income, foreign firms exiting the Indian market, etc. India needs to come up with landmark legislations to deal with these concerns. We need to open up the closed doors of promising Indian sectors like retail. This will bring in the necessary capital which will serve as a boost for the beleaguered Indian economy. The entry of foreign players into the market will also ensure hiring and some talented individuals are sure to meet the cut. The capital brought in by these firms will inject a fresh breath of life in the industry. This investment will be of high criticality and will save the economy from getting derailed. The entry of foreign players will also ensure the entry of better and more feasible technology. India is bound to benefit technologically by such measures. Overall the solution looks to be very simple on paper; open key enclosed sectors for foreign investment, they’ll bring in capital and technology, hire employees and will help in pushing up profits and per capita income. We also need to put a brake on the trend of foreign firms exiting India successively. This has been happening because of the lack of skilled labour in the industry. This concern needs to be tackled with a more holistic and far sighted approach. India needs to improve its education sector vastly and needs to inculcate technical know-how among all students attending the various temples of learning across the nation. This will improve the quality of students graduating from colleges and universities who in turn will turn out to be better skilled professionals in the field. But this is a long term measure and will require tons of patience.

Even though the year 2011 raised many critical questions for the Indian economy but the fact that the Indian growth story has ended eludes all aspects of truth. India is very much on the path towards inclusive growth and if we are able to resurrect certain faulty sectors within a feasible period of time, the Indian economy will very soon become an even more powerful force to reckon with.