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Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Is Community-Neutral Growth Model In Gujarat Inclusive?

By Zafar Sareshwala (Guest Writer)

Is the Gujarat model of development inclusive? Some have called it sheer hype. They say that many false and exaggerated claims have been made about it. Yet others have said that this model works only for urban areas; some say it deliberately excludes minorities.

This writer, who was one of Narendra Modi’s toughest critics in the aftermath of the 2002 riots, has come to believe that the model of community-neutral development planning in Gujarat has worked for the benefit of all.
Some background of the context in which Modi’s development model evolved is worthwhile. In October 2001, when Modi first came to Gujarat as Chief Minister, the state was reeling under the after-shocks of the Kutch earthquake. Many cities had been impacted by this disaster, and Gujarat’s infrastructure, economy, and social services were crumbling. Human suffering was at its peak. The 2002 riots made things infinitely worse.

In short, it would not be wrong to say that 2002 was the lowest period for Gujarat. This climate of despondency affected not only Muslims, but many Hindus too. They saw that in a communally-surcharged Gujarat, business would be difficult to do. Many companies, including multinational companies, had either stopped their investments or reduced their engagements with the state. Fresh investments in Gujarat had dried up and economic activity was tapering down. Fewer people from outside Gujarat were coming to the state for business or other activities.

The poor were impacted most in this atmosphere of gloom and fear: the families of rickshaw-walas, street hawkers, labourers, small transport operators, and people working in cottage industries such as kite-making, rakhi-making, agarbattis and hand-printing, were miserable as their business was impacted by the fall in the level of economic activity in the state. Needless to say, these are not industries dominated only by one community.

A big chunk of Gujaratis, including Hindus and Muslims, are involved in retail trading, and many of them are small shop-keepers, particularly in the cities of Gujarat.

To his credit, Modi realised early that the only way forward in a communally-charged atmosphere was through economic development and in 2003 he embarked on the first Vibrant Gujarat Summit. Modi also realised that there could not be peace without economic progress and education. This is one reason why one of the first steps he took was to create a better infrastructure for education.  By 2012-13, Gujarat had tripled the number of universities from 14 in 2001 to 42 with good infrastructure and syllabus. At the other end of the education spectrum, according to the Gujarat Socio Economic Review 2012-13, the state has managed to dramatically decrease the school drop-out rate. Today the school drop-out rate stands at 2.07 percent from 22.3 percent in 1999-2000.

According to the latest Planning Commission Report on Household Access to Safe Drinking Water, 90 percent of the total households in Gujarat have access to safe drinking water.

Modi had inherited a power-deficit state. He enacted tough laws to prevent power theft and leakages, increased the load factor, revamped the administration of the State Electricity Board and made Gujarat a 24×7  power surplus state. Even the remotest village has 24×7 power.

Gujarat always had a good road infrastructure, but under Modi every village is now connected by road. The GSRTC bus reaches the smallest villages, which ensures that farmers can get to market and children to school.

It is true that Gujarat always had a template for growth, but it had been lying in some cupboard somewhere. Gujarat always had industry, but not of the kind that could generate large-scale employment. Gujarat had no car manufacturing and assembling units, for example. Today, Gujarat is a manufacturing hub for cars, hosting everyone from the Tatas to Ford, GM and Maruti. By 2015, when all these car manufacturing units will be fully operational, they will create thousands of job opportunities and employment in ancillary and service industries. The car industry is an employment multiplier the world over and Modi has brought this opportunity to Gujarat.

It is often said that Modi is big industry-oriented, but the state government has given a push to many of the tiniest cottage industries. Small and medium industries are throbbing with activity. The 2009-10 Annual Survey of Industries showed that 9.8 percent of the country’s factories are in Gujarat; but their share in value-added is even higher at 13.22 percent.

Let me give you one example of how a tiny sector got a leg up. Ahmedabad has always had a kite-flying tradition and the business of making kites is dominated by craftsmen from the Muslim community. Modi created hype in the annual kite festival and started the International Kite Festival. The popularity of this festival today has lifted a Rs 2-3 crore annual industry to a size of Rs 50 crore, both for making kites and string (manja). Special workers come all the way from Lucknow to Gujarat to colour and prepare the manja. The employment benefits are there for all to see.

Tourism – another big employment generator – is something Modi needs credit for. He has put Gujarat on the tourism map with the Amitabh Bachchan-led Khushboo Gujarat ki campaign. It is worth recalling that the Gir lion sanctuary has been in Gujarat for ages, but few tourists knew about it till recently. There is now a 20 percent rise in foreign tourists visiting Gujarat.

Gujarat’s coast, once a haven just for smuggling, has been transformed into a massive infrastructure and business asset. Agriculture has been given tremendous momentum despite the fact that Gujarat has no perennial rivers. Agricultural growth in the state has been consistently over 7 percent against a national average of less than half that. How did Gujarat manage this? No Chief Minister has worked to improve the ground water table as much as Modi by implementing schemes for small check-dams, field ponds, and bori bandhs – all of which helped the state raise the underground water level in the soil. Gujarat has also been praised for having the best model of land acquisition by the  Supreme Court.

None of this could have happened if the Gujarat Chief Minister had actually turned out to be the communal polariser he was seen to be in 2002. He has made Gujarat riot-free and law and order is clearly well under control now.

The Chief Minister’s style is to monitor things personally and this is one reason why a policy that is announced gets implemented. Policy is not created whimsically, and his supervision ensures that the state is relatively transparent in its dealings. It is lean and implementation-oriented.

How far has Modi come from 2002? I believe he has successfully evolved from 2002 with his no-nonsense, decisive and visionary attitude combined with a firm grip on administration.

So when people ask whether the Modi model can be replicated outside Gujarat, my answer would be yes.

(About the Writer:  Zafar Sareshwala is a prominent Gujarati businessman who had waged a bitter fight against Modi for the riots of 2002.)