The Narendra Modi model: A carefully crafted myth

23 Apr 2014

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Bharatiya Janata Party prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi (R) waves to supporters as Shiv Sena party chief Uddhav Thackeray looks on at an election rally in Mumbai, April 21, 2014. — Photo by AFP
Bharatiya Janata Party prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi (R) waves to supporters as Shiv Sena party chief Uddhav Thackeray looks on at an election rally in Mumbai, April 21, 2014. — Photo by AFP

The so-called Modi model of development propagated with frenzy in recent times is based on carefully crafted myths and distortions. While those in change of NaMo's election campaign can congratulate themselves on their ability to sell an imaginary success story, from the point of view of informed decision-making by voters this highly distorted propaganda has been a disaster.

Of course, some positive aspects of Gujarat had always stood out much before Mr Narendra Modi appeared on the political scene. Since historical times, Gujarat had a special place in sea-trade. Gujarat's ports were the nearest sea-outlets for the huge, densely-populated, mainly Hindi-speaking hinterland to its east.

Gujarat then had geographical and historical reasons for trade-related prosperity; improvement of road-transport also contributed to facilitate this prosperity. Trade-oriented people value law and order, a tendency which was further reinforced by the Gandhian legacy of a ban on open sale of liquor.

This legacy of Gujarat provides a strong base for achieving significant improvements in health, education and women's welfare, and at a much broader level, for inclusive development, reduction of poverty and malnutrition and for social harmony. Unfortunately, the progress in all these important areas in Gujarat during Mr Modi's tenure as chief minister has ranged from moderate to poor.

So the issue we need to discuss is not at all about the imaginary great progress made under Modi's leadership of Gujarat. The question we face is quite a different one: Why, given some highly favourable conditions, Gujarat under Modi has failed to realise the potential of much better social development?

In fact, at one important level, the overall experience of Manmohan Singh-led India and Modi-led Gujarat has been the same. Both recorded an increase of economic growth rates without recording a comparable increase in social development indicators or human development indicators.

It was not that there was no improvement in social development, but rather that the improvement was much less than the GNP growth, and also much below the actual potential.

In fact, in Manmohan-led India, despite all the other problems, there has actually been an improvement in some important social development indicators in the last two years or so (such as reduction of infant mortality and maternal mortality).

This may be partly due to some genuine improvements made through the national rural health mission, and partly because of the increasing pressure on officials to tailor statistics of some key indicators. Such factors are reflected also in most states, including Gujarat.

However, if the so called Modi model had been a real success, then given the special advantages Gujarat has had, health, education and gender data here should've been at the top, instead of stagnating at middle levels.

In fact, if the Modi government had not squandered thousands of crores of rupees in giving expensive concessions to industries (such as giving land at low prices), then these resources could've been carefully used to improve social development indicators.

The NaMo government had little interest in justice-based social harmony, and instead was more interested in majority chauvinism. This weakness became worse in adverse situations and the government failed to perform its 'rajdharma' (in the then Prime Minister Vajpayee's words), allowing violent mobs to kill around 2000 people in the most cruel ways in the communal violence of 2002.

This was followed by highly regrettable apathy towards the victims of communal violence, and other attempts to increase insecurity of the minorities by raising the scare of terrorists, culminating in fake encounter killings of many persons, most of whom were Muslims.

It is to draw attention away from the cases relating to these killings that the myth of the Modi model of development has been raised at such a high pitch, so that blood-stained hands can be reinvented as the hands that created unprecedented prosperity.

But this is not believed by those farmers of Gujarat who were displaced not because of truly important projects but because the government was eager to sell more-than-required land to crony capitalists for many dubious projects.

In fact, some of these projects have been heavily criticised for their high levels of pollution, leading to the creation of some of the most polluting and hazardous industrial zones in Gujarat.

Some farmers may have experienced temporary spurts in cash earnings due to the Modi government's emphasis on cash crops, but this was at the expense of ecologically protective farm practices.

Gujarat became the most enthusiastic promoter of GM crops in the form of Bt-cotton, but farmers who received short-time benefits later regretted their choice due to higher uncertainties and risks — not just economic but also health risks.

Water meant for farmers and villagers of thirsty, drought-prone areas was diverted to industries and cities. Farmers were deprived of land and water not for priority needs but even for statues and beautification. The situation become precarious in ecologically sensitive coastal areas as on the one hand highly polluting industries were set up, and on the other hand construction of dams in the upper areas reduced river flows near coastal areas, leading to salt water ingression.

So if at all a Modi-model exists, it is less about success and more about failure to tap the special strengths of Gujarat in such ways as to achieve high levels of social development and harmony. Gujarat certainly has some special strengths but it still waits for capable leadership which can use these in meaningful ways to achieve genuine progress.

By arrangement with The Statesman/ANN