With the first phase of the elections just a day away, one topic that has been glaring in its absence so far in the ruling party’s election campaign is the Gujarat model of development. In the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Gujarat model of development was a hot topic and its perceived success or lack of it was hotly debated — both in the media and among politicians and economists.

In fact, in 2013-14, two world renowned economists — Amartya Sen and Jagdish Bhagwati — were engaged in a very public spat, which was often vitriolic, over the Gujarat vs Kerala model of development. In a broad sense, the Gujarat model privileges growth and infrastructure development. The underlying logic was that growth and industrial development will play a bigger role in reducing poverty. The Kerala model, on the other hand, privileged a rights-based approach to development with a strong emphasis on social and human development. Bhagwati was a strong votary of the Gujarat model and Sen, the Kerala model.

Of course, there were some historical conditions that existed in both States that made these two models unique to them. Gujarat had a strong entrepreneurial history which made industrial development easier to achieve. In Kerala, the focus on education and public health began right from the time of Travancore rule in the colonial period.

However, in 2014, the Gujarat model was touted as a panacea for all of India’s economic problems, and Narendra Modi had vowed to replicate it in other parts of the country. In the context of the ‘policy paralysis’ under UPA-II, this argument gained traction among the voters and even sections of the media. But five years down the line the BJP seems more than happy to fall back on the tried and tested ‘nationalist plank’ than to showcase its impressive record on rural electrification, road building and ease of doing business. The focus of the Modi regime now seems to have shifted towards health — the Ayushman Bharat scheme — and other social indices. Has the Gujarat vs Kerala model debate turned full circle?