Opinion

Gujarat and its contradictions

Anita K. Dixit | Updated on March 09, 2018 Published on December 12, 2012

The publicity and propaganda around Modi’s Gujarat has masked socio-economic failures.



A billboard in Ahmedabad reads, “Our development has received more than 250 national and international commendations, news reports worldwide honour Gujarat…” It prominently displays the photograph of a pensive Narendra Modi. This is the ‘Gujarat phenomenon’, publicised at every street corner in the State, its echoes reverberating all over the country. Not only has the BJP reaped electoral benefits from this but the CM has also gathered a rare personal following bordering on hero worship.

Gujarat has indeed recorded impressive levels of economic growth. But this did not come about through Modi’s policies. Abusaleh Shariff (2011), writing for NCAER, points out that Gujarat ranked seventh in per capita NSDP in 1971-72, only moving up to sixth in 2007-08. In the triennium ending 1996-97, during the government of Rashtriya Janata Party under Shankersinh Vaghela, its rank moved up to fourth, but rapidly went back to seventh.

INEQUALITY AMIDST HYPE

The other plank of Gujarat’s ‘success story’ is industrial growth. Gujarat has one of the highest shares of industry in the country; as per Annual Survey of Industries (ASI) data it ranks second only to Maharashtra in net value added in 2008-09. The State prides itself on having the least labour unrest — indicating low levels of labour organisation. However, investment has not always been forthcoming. Maharashtra received the highest FDI of Rs 1.75 lakh crore (January 2000 to March 2010), while Delhi (Rs 1.02 lakh crore) and Karnataka (Rs 31,000 crore) received higher FDI than Gujarat (Rs 28,000 crore).

While industry and trade are the drivers of growth, agriculture has been largely neglected. This sector is home to the State’s wealthiest landowning families, but also to the majority of the poor. It has 54.4 per cent of the workforce but contributes less than 15 per cent of the NSDP, which means it is deprived of the benefits of the State’s phenomenal growth.

The last decade (since 2000-01) has been labelled the decade of ‘agrarian miracle’ in Gujarat, for the high and steady growth rates; attributed to innovative irrigation techniques adopted in the dry regions. A paper published in the Institute for Research Analysis and Policy, Hyderabad (2010), finds these growth figures to be mere number-juggling.

They appear larger than real due to the price inflation effect. Moreover, they show simply a recovery from the dip in production in drought years 1999 and 2000. The authors explain that irrigation patterns in the State, relying largely on groundwater, are non-sustainable, and the State is now even more reliant on rainfall than before.

Many articles have underlined how unequal Gujarat’s growth is. According to the latest (2009-10) figures, about 23 per cent of Gujarat’s population is officially poor. Remarkably, Gujarat’s share in all of India’s poor, which had declined from 3.2 per cent to 3 per cent between 1993-94 and 2004-05, increased to 3.84 per cent by 2009-10 — 45.4 lakh persons were added to the poor between 2004-05 and 2009-10.

Various studies, including the National Family Health Survey, show high levels of undernourished population in Gujarat, and dismal performance in Human Development indicators. Economic growth in Gujarat is actually accompanied by declining, not improving, nutritional levels. But such analytical results are either dismissed as Congress propaganda, or are downright ignored by the average Gujarati.

Modi himself has led the charge against any criticism of Gujarat on these counts, time and again referring to ‘people who are jealous of Gujarat’s progress’. The latest volley came when he trivialised the issue of malnourishment in the State, attributing it to vegetarianism and beauty-consciousness.

IMAGE-BUILDING

Indeed, this has been the essential contribution of Modi — the creation of an aggressive, even militant, identity — the quintessential Gujarati asmita as a wealthy, dynamic region, peopled by a driven and entrepreneurial population.

This image is overlaid with a veneer of assertive Hindutva. The opinion makers in the State, Modi’s staunchest followers, belong largely to the middle and upper middle-class and upwardly mobile castes. The lacunae in the growth story do not concern them; inequity in distribution is shrugged away. For them, the presence of wide roads, shopping malls, cinema houses and large industrial complexes is enough proof of ‘development’.

The Chief Minister has aggressively invested in building this image. While no concrete figures on expenditure are available, the State has embarked on unparalleled publicity campaigns.

Tourism is promoted not merely as a means of income, but also as an image-promoting gesture. The famous kite festival, the Desert Festival in Kuchchh, are examples. Religious sentiments and the Hindutva rhetoric are underlined and promoted by sponsored trips of various communities to their places of worship, the proliferation of holidays for minor Hindu deities, etc. Economic development is not viewed as a socio-economically inclusive phenomenon.

The most glaring example of Gujarat’s development trajectory is embodied in the proposed Mahatma Mandir. Promoted as “inspired from … the life and philosophy of the Father of the Nation…; reflecting the prosperity of Gujarat”, it has capacity of 15,000, and consists of a double-storied atrium at entrance level, a Convention Centre with seven hi-tech conference halls and a modern meeting room, among other features.

This so-called tribute to the Mahatma reflects accurately the distance the State has moved from his teachings: simplicity and inclusive living. It indicates the creation of a growth model diametrically opposed to ideas of equality or just distribution of gains.

(The author is a social scientist.)

Published on December 12, 2012
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