Has anyone wondered why Prime Minister Narendra Modi has stopped trumpeting his ‘Gujarat Model’ of development even though Lok Sabha general elections are underway? The reason is obvious. What was being touted as ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ by him was just a ‘ jumla’ to hide the stark reality of what had become not just a ‘Stagnant Gujarat’ but ‘Regressive Gujarat’.
Modi had inherited a ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ when he became the Chief Minister on October 7, 2001. In the two decades (1960-1980) after the state was formed in 1960, Gujarat’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth was 4.4 per cent against the country’s growth rate of 3.3 per cent.
In the following two decades between 1980 and 2000, Gujarat’s economy registered a phenomenal growth rate of 14.5 per cent against the country’s 5.5 per cent. For four decades after its formation, Gujarat fuelled the country’s growth engine. The state’s economy maintained its momentum even after 2002, registering a GDP growth rate of 9.5 per cent (2002-2014) and 8.6 per cent (2014-2018) against the country’s growth of 7.5 per cent and 6.8 per cent respectively.
When Modi, then a BJP national general secretary, was sent to Gujarat in October 2001 to replace Keshubhai Patel as the Chief Minister, to lead the party in the Assembly elections scheduled for December 2002, the party’s popularity was on the decline as evidenced in its defeat in three successive bye-elections, one each of Lok Sabha, state Assembly and district panchayat.
Within a few months of Modi’s swearing in as the Chief Minister, a ghastly incident took place in Godhra in which 59 Kar Sevaks, returning in a train from Ayodhya, were burnt to death. Violence broke out in central and north Gujarat resulting in the killing of close to 2,000 people, mainly Muslims. Modi held that Pakistan sponsored the Muslims to burn the train at Godhra. The BJP won the subsequent Assembly elections.
In all the subsequent state Assembly elections since 2002, Pakistan and Muslims were portrayed by Modi as ‘enemies’ of Gujarat. During his 12 years of unchallenged rule as Chief Minister, Modi projected himself as the champion of industries and commerce coining the phrase ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ as symbol of the enterprising nature of Gujaratis. He organised a biennial extravaganza under the aegis of ‘Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors’ Summit for which he led business delegations to dozens of countries.
However, the Vibrant Gujarat summits were more a ‘jumla’. They never quite succeeded in terms attracting investment and generating employment. During these investors’ summits held between 2003 and 2011, Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) were signed pledging investment totalling ₹40 lakh crore. However, only 8 per cent of the promised investment, amounting to just ₹3 lakh crore actually came. In the summits held in 2013, 2015 and 2017, another ₹86 lakh crore was pledged. How much of it has been realised, no one knows as the government has not made any disclosure.
Investment in Industries should have resulted in employment generation. However, official figures of registered educated job-seekers reveal that there were 16 lakh unemployed people as of 2018. Moreover, in rural areas, there were 35 lakh people who got 100 days employment as labourers under the MNREGA scheme at an average daily wage of ₹174, far below the rate fixed under the Minimum Wages Act.
Gujarat was ranked 11th in the country in Human Development Index even by the Modi government in 2017. As many as 21.5 per cent of families in villages and 10.1 per cent families in cities in Gujarat are living below the poverty line. As many as 47 per cent children of Gujarat under the age of five are malnourished and even 28 per cent adult men and 63 per cent adult women living in the state are malnourished, such is the state of poverty.
While Gujarat boasts of being a favourite ‘medical tourism’ destination with over 200 private hospitals set up in the last five years in Ahmedabad district, only 200 beds were added to government hospitals which have a shortage of 12,000 doctors in Gujarat, not to speak of paramedical staff.
The state of education in Gujarat too is dismal. While the government claims to have encouraged setting up of as many as 50 private universities, only one-fifth of the 100 students who enrol in the first standard of school go to colleges to pursue higher studies. Of the 17 lakh students who enrol in the first standard, 11 lakh appear for the tenth examinations and only six lakh of them passed in 2018.
The primary, secondary and higher secondary schools in Gujarat are short of around 40,000 teachers and college and universities are short of 10,000 teaching faculty. As many 125 colleges have no principals.
The hollowness of the much publicised Ujjwala Yojana which Narendra Modi claims has liberated poor women from the drudgery of cooking on earthen hearths with wood as fuel was exposed in a door-to-door survey conducted by non-government organisation Disha recently in four pre-dominantly tribal districts of north and eastern Gujarat. Of the 1080 tribal families surveyed in Sabarkantha, Aravalli, Dahod and Panchmahal districts, 953 families did not buy the second cylinder and have gone back to using firewood to cook on their earthen hearth. To make matters worse, since they figured in the list of registered gas users under the Ujjwala scheme, they were not entitled to receiving kerosene from the ration shops.
Modi has muzzled the voice of opposition parties, social activists, trade union leaders, academics, minorities, Dalits and Adivasis by using the coercive forces of the police, forest and revenue officials besides controlling the mainstream media. Protest demonstrations by farmers against land acquisition for setting up of Special Economic Zones, Special Investment Regions and for private industries have been suppressed by the police by the use of force and by slapping criminal cases.
Even the democratic space available to the elected representatives has been squeezed by shortening the sessions of the state legislative Assembly, suspending the opposition MLAs on the slightest pretext, not allowing discussion on reports of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) by placing these at the last minute of the Assembly session.
During his rule as the Chief Minister from 2002 to 2014, Modi established himself as a master of razzmatazz events, showmanship and self-marketing, creating four classes of subjects he ruled over – mesmerised class, beneficial class, bhakts (blind followers) and the threatened class.
The mesmerised class of people are those who are dazzled by antics like landing of a sea-plane in the Sabarmati river in Ahmedabad during electioneering, unveiling of the tallest metal statue of Sardar Patel on an island next to the Narmada Dam, Ro-Ro ferry service claimed to be the first in the country and sharing a swing with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Among the beneficiary class are the corporate honchos like the Ambanis and Adanis and other big industrialists, contractors and businessmen who get their share of the cake of various projects of urban infrastructure development such as roads and flyovers, frequent government-sponsored events, professionals such as engineers, architects and management consultants.
Ever since the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom, a new class of Bhakts (Blind followers) has emerged which idolise Modi as ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’, the superman with a 56-inch chest size capable of taming the Muslims and Pakistan.
The threatened class is that of Muslims, Christians, Adivasis, social and political activists, intellectuals, artists, writers, journalists and academics who hold independent views and do not toe the line of the Sangh parivar.
(The writer teaches Economics in Gujarat University)