“The whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” said Aristotle. This is true of economic analysis of Gujarat over the Modi period.
Two books on Gujarat’s economy, by two highly competent economists, arrived on my table recently. When I told the Editor that one of them was all praise for the State and the other very critical, he told me a story from his schooldays.
As part of the Hindi curriculum, he said, one of the stories he had to read was called “Dhaal ka Rang” meaning the colour of the shield hanging from a tree. Two friends could not agree whether it was blue or green and got into a heated argument until a third chap came along and said it was blue on one side and green on the other.
This being exactly true of Narendra Modi’s Gujarat, I thought I’d write about the two books together. This is not a review as I have no opinion to offer on the volumes, not least because the authors are very good friends of mine. Suffice it to say that a lot of people should read these books and form their own opinions.
First off, then, the one by Bibek Debroy (Gujarat: Governance for Growth and Development, Academic Foundation) is the strangest coffee table book I have ever seen: it is a data buff’s delight but full of some very ordinary photos. However, everything — well, almost — you want to know about Gujarat’s economy is there in this book.
Debroy marshals his facts carefully. He is also a persuasive arguer of the case based on those facts. Gujarat emerges smelling of roses in this volume.
His main point is conventional wisdom, though: if you govern well, the results will be positive. One simple way of defining good governance, suggests Debroy, is to look at the overall numbers: if they stack up well, this is clear evidence of good governance.
But to get there, he says, you have to increase public awareness of their rights — which Gujarat has done — and reduce/eliminate monopolies and discretion along with hugely increased private investment, which also Gujarat has done. Of course, you have to fix agriculture, too.
Strikingly, Debroy doesn’t mention Modi at all. That’s perhaps not very clever because whatever has happened to Gujarat’s economy is because of its leadership. That Modi provided it is incidental.
Debroy should therefore have included a chapter on leadership in Gujarat — at all but the Chief Minister’s level of which we hear enough and more.
In all successful States, it is this non-CM level leadership that delivers. Ask Sheila Dixit, Nitish Kumar, Oommen Chandy, Shivraj Chauhan, etc. It’s their officials who get the job done.
This rosy view of Gujarat is not shared by Atul Sood who teaches economics at JNU. He has edited another volume (Poverty Amidst Prosperity, Aakar) and is very critical. He finds fault with the process that has led to this “success” — large-scale private investment, especially in infrastructure, and the corporatisation of agriculture.
These things, he says in his opening essay, have not contributed ‘much’ to the people of Gujarat. The marginalised groups have become worse off, along with many others.
A key indicator of this, he justifiably points out, is the growth in consumption expenditure. On this, the State’s performance is just average. Moreover, under Modi, this indicator has done less well than it had done during the 1990s.
To cut a long story short, Sood is of the view that this growth strategy “has led to increased suffering for the deprived sections, namely, lower castes, minorities and women.”
The rest of the nine essays are along these broad lines, devoted to making the generally valid point that the growth process has not been even. A lot of people have been left out, the tribals in particular — a point with which Debroy doesn’t agree.
He has devoted a full chapter to the tribals. He says compared to Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, which are Gujarat’s neighbours, things could have been far worse. For instance, there is no extremism amongst tribals in Gujarat, as compared to Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.
I would like to ask Debroy and Sood two questions now.
How come Modi gets only half of the popular vote?
How come Modi gets as much as half of the popular vote?
Aristotle apparently said that generally in societies “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts”. We should perhaps apply that to Gujarat’s economic success or failure over the Modi period because numbers alone never tell the whole story in human affairs.
It is not a brilliant idea to rely on them alone to prove or disprove an argument because of the presence of what statisticians call ‘error terms’, which are the amount by which the numbers presented differ from reality.
Someone needs to tell us if Narendra Modi’s leadership is that error term.