Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2014 > Gujarat : A Model of ‘Development’?

Mainstream, VOL LII, No 16, April 12, 2014

Gujarat : A Model of ‘Development’?

Saturday 12 April 2014, by Kamal Nayan Kabra

A notable feature of the 2014 elections seems to be, at least on the surface, that development, particularly the inter-State differences in levels of development (and the associated role of governance of the leadership), variously understood and projected with no sharp and clear articulation (about its socio-economic content and sustainability), has been brought centre-stage. Clearly the intention seems to have been to make development the talk of the town (and, of course, villages and tea stalls). It appears to be a part of the game-plan to convert the forthcoming elections to the Lok Sabha into virtually a presidential kind of election. It seems the RSS found it a good opportunity to make the most of the vacuum following unprecedented disenchantment with the UPA-II and the utter fiasco of its policies.

Moreover, we know how there is a great confusion and lack of clarity, including deliberate misrepresentation, of development by the entire political establishment in the form of considering and propagating the rate of growth of the national income as the heart and soul of ‘development’. What is actually a downright market-based, corporate-led expansion of output flows—captured in the estimates of GDP and gross State domestic product (GSDP) irrespective of its character or composition, its distribution and associated macro-economic and structural and regional factors, such as the general price level, regional distribution, shares of various economic sectors and viability of our external economic linkages along with the associated externalities, such as the environmental factors and social unrest—is unfortunately loudly accepted in Plan after Plan with due approval by the National Development Council as the prime national goal and challenge; it is extended even over the Perspective Plan period. As a result, India has surely reached the fourth place in terms of the size of the national income in PPP terms, but an overwhelmingly large part of Indians have little to celebrate and much to lament about over this much touted gain, including on behalf of the future generations. It is clear as daylight and endorsed by any number of routinely announced national social and human development indices by many global agencies that with such a content, meaning and indicator of ‘development’ most of the Indians are forced to lead a sub-human existence far removed from the constitutional right to life and development. Thanks to the growth- accelerating neo-liberal policies, (lately reaching a blind alley even on this score) and their full-throated endorsement by the global multi-national, multilateral agencies, the States of the Union are competing with each other to attain similar high growth, unmindful of similar social anomalies and perversions!

The raga of development accompanying the voluble, no-holds-barred electoral campaign for the 16th Lok Sabha elections must be viewed in such an overall ‘development’ perspective—a perspective where the aggregate output growth steals a march over almost everything else that matters to a dignified human social existence constituting a harmonious inclusive society. In fact, given the actual content of development propagated in the course of the campaign and the electoral gimmicks and tactics, it is clear that the desire of the political class is to make another attempt to sell snake-oil as the remedy for all the ills.

But when it comes to bandying about the development issue as a part of the electoral campaign and rabble-rousing, a liberal dose of outright falsehood and misrepresentation seems to be the main ingredient, mainly by the BJP and its star campaigners, especially about how they have ‘developed’ Gujarat a State which, it is claimed, is so dramatically and drastically different from the rest of India (possibly including the other States ruled by the BJP). No less ridiculous and empty are the claims of the UPA to speak of and garner credit for the rights-based approach to various ingredients of development! But the story gets worse for the concept and content of development when in most public speeches and claims by the campaigners from practically all the parties developments equated with the availability of good roads, water supply and electricity, and such like common minimum public goods and services. These are the primary, minimal functions of any state worth its salt. This is an example of the unforgivable and fairly deliberate practice by the state, both at the Centre and in our States, in free and democratic India that this kind of a bundle of the basic minimum social public goods and services and productive and civic infrastructure for the villages and the socially excluded sections everywhere should have been the basic first steps. True, these facilities and services could have been taken at the most in the first two or three decades after independence and surely much before going in for the so-called world class facilities of the most advanced variety seen in the global metropolises for the elites and already better-off small minority as a major, seemingly the first, charge on our limited fiscal resources. Thus even the baby steps towards private initiatives and enterprise-based development which could equip our abundant labour force to be partners in progress were relegated to a low priority and are even after nearly seven decades grossly inadequate and distributed in a fairly arbitrary and skewed manner. To compound this undemocratic practice, now they try to beguile the citizens by promising in small doses and in a highly discretionary manner some bits of their basic entitlements and try to pass these practices as ‘development’.

Availability of a pucca road covering the streets and by-lanes of a every village and town, drainage and water supply and a school and some sort of medical services centre and the like are the basic steps and pre-requisites of a meaningful existence as the citizens of a democracy which purports to empower its people with some fundamental rights. Surely the provision of these amenities and facilities cannot be taken to constitute development but are integral parts of the pre-requisites for making moves towards making development a reality over time, particularly with active grassroots level participation.. Clearly, these are not development by themselves but form parts of the conditions in which development can be pursued and made a reality over a reckonable time horizon. In the Indian democracy and development planning these basic facilities and people-centric socio-economic infrastructure for the common citizen remain postponed to an indefinite future.

It is absurd to lament about the non-availability and paucity of resources. One can see how wasteful expenditure, totally out of sync with what a poor country and its millions of hungry and deprived citizens cannot even imagine as their fate in the lifetime even of their next generation, is the norm in the functioning and budgetary allocations of the government and the corporate sector and directed to meet the whims, fancies and mimetic urges of the non-aam aadmi kind of so-called elites and super elites suffering from the VIP complex.. Such considerations have just vanished from our public and particularly disgracefully from our development discourse. We see everywhere around us five-star government buildings, offices, convention halls, hotels, fleets of cars, you speak of anything seen in the richest countries and you will see them in our government and corporate palaces and the gated skyscrapers.

It seems austerity has become a dirty or a proscribed word in the governance and resource allocation decisions by the governments and public limited companies. The development discourse suffers from consumerism and extravagant spending mania. We the elites want everything world class for ourselves so that we can keep our heads high in the global gatherings we so frequently patronise or gatecrash in: highways and superb quality street roads in the metros and State capitals and so on, we have seen over the last six decades how the pavements have been fitted and refitted tens of times with ever superior quality tiles and dozens of frivolous, non-functional but demonstrative facilities and showpieces for the so-called absurdity called “global image”. The reason we mention these monstrosities is simple: what is absurdly, undemocratically and even inhumanly ignored in most of the prevalent grand development discourse is a deafening silence over these issues in the mainstream development debates and so many popular, high academic-content-rich books with plenty of colourful and catchy phrases outdoing each other over the low level of human development and many lost generations.

It is in this wider context that we find that sky is the limit for the claims of the kind made about the growth outcomes for Gujarat with similar tall and people-disempowering claims announced and displayed in hugely wasteful and purposeless media campaigns and high decibel mobilised public allies, each costing a fortune. Apparently all the major rich political parties are thriving on both open and clan-destine, voluntary and extorted, financial contributions from the crony corporate giants, various mafias and the lobbies of contractors and the like. How the black economy performs an active role in our elections is matched by the hidden hand of various mafias and external agencies only. Before we come to the specific issues related to the claims about the much-hyped but baseless sterling performance of Gujarat, supposed to be holding out lessons and showing some glimpses of what the rest of the country may expect if it were ‘wise and sensible’ enough to believe in and accept the Gujarat model and, of course, the main part of the script, the Gujarat leader who, given a chance to reach anywhere near the magical number 272 seats in the Lok Sabha, is all set to Gujaratise the entire country!

Of course, given such a wild play of bubbling ambitions and given the dismal performance of the UPA II, there could not have been a better time for the most organised and resource-rich political outfit with its underhand, totally unaccountable and mysteriously chosen guiding stars to take the plunge, and given the unforgivable neglect of even the basic pre-conditions of civilised human existence to a majority of our people over the past almost seven decades, to try to make a poll vault to power at the Centre after taking over quite a few centres at the level of the States during the last decades. This seems to be the calculus guiding the most organised and energetic and ambitious political party with an insuppressible will to power in the form of its pus 272 campaign.

It seems for the less gullible who are not swayed by the noise brigades and the vast numbers mobilised for the massive rallies and the use of the most modern technologies (a misnomer being the social media) and untold amounts of money and whirlwind movements criss-crossing the country, the entire exercise has been velvet-wapped in the misleading and context-free claims and verbal images of development of ‘vibrant’ Gujarat. The publicity to Gujarat’s tourist destinations too has been so packaged at times as to create a false impression of great progress in a State which has as much poverty, inequalities, diseases, ignorance and atrocities against the excluded and minorities as possibly any other State of our Union. A closer view is sure to reveal how the growth story of Gujarat is under severe stress, lacking both a clear vision of people-centric, socially inclusive and, most important of all, growth vision and practices copied from and largely similar to what the Union and other State governments are doing. It is such development fiction which is supposed to deliver the electoral harvest to enable the capture of power at the Centre.

Clearly the stakes have been raised very high by the BJP, as though a lifetime opportunity is around. Unmistakably for this party missing the mission 272 may well be taken as an unmitigated disaster for them and their leadership. Little wonder, a hawa is sought to be generated to bamboozle the electorate into making them go with the multitude and hope for a Gujarat to be created for them. A major question not asked and tackled is:

How on Earth with largely the same set of policies with similar bureaucracy, corporate culture and behavior pattern, decision-making and so on and similar political culture—engrossed crony and business man-like corporatised political class, a totally different kind of outcome, responding to the long neglected genuine and legitimate needs and aspirations of the common citizen can be delivered? That these policies in Gujarat are as pure neo-liberal market-determined, state-enabled

policies as are those of the Congress and its largely apolitical rootless internationalist wonders commanding the highest decision-making positions at the Central Government level as also in various States received a telling endorsement by a group of economists committed to the market freedoms and open borders for world business tycoons. They have prepared a freedom index for business for the States of India. They place Gujarat at the top in terms of this index. Incidentally among several socio-economic indices periodically announced by various groups and institutions, I found that the so-called freed index is the only one in which Gujarat finds itself in the top slot.

And is it really true that Gujarat under the BJP for the last over a decade obtained any different results, except a little bit of largely random quantitative pluses and minuses here and there, as is the case with almost all the States in some spheres at least? Particulalry noteworthy is the role and impact of the initial starting-point, the cultural and socio-economic specifics of any State and the natural endowments etc. and rarely factored-in impact of the activities and projects of the Union Government. Though the manifestos are yet to come, not a single idea has been indicated about any alternative set of policies, programmes or the direction of the change to deliver a different kind of outcome from what has made life difficult for people during the last decade while expanding the number of billionaires tenfold. These issues are incapable of being addressed by some random bits of patchy interventions here and there but call for a consistent and comprehensive package of relevant things except propagation of self-virtuosity which each party does with great fanfare. Let alone giving up neo-liberalism, some-thing not an easy task given the present constraints but even its fine-tuning and simple course correction based on our conditions and experience remain for the present largely conspicuous by their absence at least in the campaign speeches. Yes, very many different outcomes are promised but how and when and on the basis of what kind of resources and machinery are issues shrouded in silence.

Can the unchallenged supremacy and concentration of power and authority in the hands of one single individual in whose name votes are sought, a symbol and personality a few notches above the party and its declared and undeclared agenda (unfortunately with little attention to the socio-economic and cultural content of development and its degree and form of social exclusion or relationship with adverse inclusion of the people at large, specially at the lower end of our social hierarchy) really take the country anywhere near the promises? It seems this feature has been devised as a part of the game-plan to use this election to install a State satrap in the top position in India’s parliamentary form of government which is sought to be increasingly turned in practice into some kind of informal presidential system, permitting the moneybags to organise a massive all-India campaign based on liberal throwing around of the filthy lucre.

What is implied is that while the parliamentary form survives formally despite occasional noise and mobilisation to switch over to the presidential form, at the operational level there is tremendous concentration of decision-making in the office and person of the Prime Minister. Surprisingly even when there are weak Prime Ministers, without reckonable political clout and base either in the party or among the people at large, the office of the Prime Minister becomes the most visible and unparalleled point from which most critical decisions flow down-wards. This is not to undermine the possibility that this may not be the ultimate source in the form of high commands to which the decisions may be attributed or traced back. It is a serious issue that needs detailed examination. The recent experience of back-seat driving should make us ask the question: who could be the potential back-seat drivers in the new single-person-dominated regime? Who has placed a single person in such an influential position is a question that cannot remain so irresolvable a mystery. But as of now as a visible power-centre and hence most coveted office, the attraction or the lure of this office has reached its zenith. The character of the elections to the 16th Lok Sabha and the issues and campaign styles and idiom and their actual playing out may well be considered quite visibly related to the significance attached to the office of the Prime Minster and its massive significance in most matters. Among several factors connected with the party system and its working, this feature seems at least prima facie to be a result of the growing top-down, undemocratic character of the political and corporate groups so powerfully poised to call the shots in India today.

Leaving the broader questions aside, let us revert back to the development issues—the claims, the reality about Gujarat in a compa-rative perspective vis-a-vis the all-India picture and that of the other States of the Indian Union as seen so far. These facts may reasonably be taken to broadly indicate the potential and prospects, as can be visualised in the days and months to come. A table from the official, credible sources which all, including the Gujarat Government and BJP too, have to rely on presents a stark picture.

The table depicts the results of a compre-hensive eight critical socio-economic factors based index of relative development of the States of the Union based on long-term data depicting the performance and current situation of the States spread over a pretty long period. These variables cover almost every thing a develop-ment enthusiast would like to factor in for taking a reasonably comprehensive view of development, except the generally missing and ignore or downplayed facts regarding decent and regular level and growth of employment vis-à-vis the growth of population and work force and income and wealth distribution data. Kindly go through the facts and discover for yourself where does Gujarat stand in a comparative perspective. Surely disappointing would be the absence of Gujarat from the top position in any of these indicators of development.

Development being a comprehensive concept and phenomenon, one may reasonably take the view that what matters is not a particular indicator or for that matter a specific set of indicators, either jointly or by itself, but the overall index of development based on a comprehensive set of closely inter-related indicators of development. Fortunately, an exercise to do precisely this kind of an exercise was entrusted by the Union Government to an expert group headed by the then economic advisor to the government of India, Raghuram Rajan, presently the Governor of the RBI. It went about its work of ranking the States on the basis of an eight factor related to development performance and arrived at a composite index of development. The variables covered were: monthly per capita consumption (for which relatively more reliable and comprehensive data are obtained on the basis of quite large scale comprehensive all—India field surveys compared to the CSO estimates of per capita GDP), the poverty ratio, education, health and household amenities, female literacy, percentage of the SC/ST population, urbanisation rate, financial inclusion and connectivity. On the basis of quite comprehensive data for a reasonably long period a composite index was prepared which ranked and categorised the 28 States as least developed (10 States), less developed (11 States) and relatively developed (the remaining seven States). Gujarat did not figure anywhere in the top slot of comparatively high positions in terms of overall development—it was ranked 12th. It seems to be a case where truth hurts, possibly because the disturbed State of Jammu and Kashmir was found to be very close to the peaceable Gujarat with frequent claims of good governance. While the index number of Gujarat was found to be 0.491, that of Jammu and Kashmir was placed at 0.504.

Let us now move to some specifics about how Gujarat is doing in terms of development. There is one significant thing in the management of water and electricity for irrigation purposes. While the area under irrigation in Gujarat has made little progress and is far below the national level of about two-thirds irrigated area, Gujarat is stuck around a little over 35 per cent irrigation cover area. However, during 2003-06, the Gujarat Government separated the rural tubewells connections from the others by spending about US $ 125 crores. It ensured that the farmers get assured and quality electricity supply. This was accompanied by effective schemes for water re-charging. As a result electricity subsidy came down markedly and the water table got stabilised and rural electricity supply improved. This holds lessons fo the other States too.

But such cases are not too many. With a relatively high level of urbanisation and old established industries, such as textiles and chemicals, the new petrochemicals under the ownership and control of the big corporate giants close to the BJP Government seem to have done well but the other industries with large employment potential and catering to the needs of mass consumption are lagging behind. Particularly the small and medium industries are facing a tough time and many units have closed down, putting pressure on the employ-ment front. A recent news report showed that for some 1500 jobs of talatis carrying a little over Rs five thousand per month salary, there was a virtual deluge of applications in the region of 13 lakhs! On top of it, there are reports that huge bribes were collected by the political bosses—a cruel impost on the unemployed youth.

The case of Nano car factory‘s movement from West Bengal to Gujarat was really played up as a feather in the cap of the Gujarat Government. A look at the massive outright gifting of huge amounts of public money to one of the biggest corporate houses and that too for a low and in some ways a negative social priority project, such as a motor car, when the State is overburdened with massive public debt as the most marked means of financing public spending and many projects are lagging for want of financial support, is a very sharp testimony of the pro-inequalities and exclusio-nary character of the growth process and outcomes in Gujarat. It is reported that a huge mind-boggling loan of some Rs 9700 crores (some reports say Rs 9500 crores only) was advanced to this company to be repaid after a grace period of 20 years and at a rate of interest of 0.1 per cent per annum! This was topped by a number of concessions in matters of building roads providing electricity and land on special concessional terms along with the allocation of a large piece of land near Gandhinagar for a housing complex. One can easily understand why the corporate sector is all praise and extending huge support to the Gujarat satrap for the highest job in the Central Government! Actually the special relationship with a number of large corporate families is seen to be the special feature of the government rated at the highest level in terms of the freedom of business index. The opportunity cost or foregone welfare opportunities apparently on account of such largesse can be found in plenty by scanning the Budget documents of Gujarat. For example, it is reported that only about 25 per cent of Gujaratis have access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation services..

We need not devote more additional space to these issues. One can just refer to a well-documented edited volume, titled Rising Growth amidst Raging Disparities: Essays on the Trajectory of Development in Gujarat by Atul Sood of the Centre for Regional Development, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, Aakar Books, 2002. The simple point is that in terms of disparities in regional development, Gujarat has hardly outperformed many States. It examines practically all the major spheres of public concern bearing on welfare and development in a historical and comparative perspective. Its main findings simply blow apart the tall and unsubstantiated claims about Gujarat being a model of a good performing State in terms of development. It is the same story as in the whole country: highly iniquitous growth loaded in favour of the well-to-do and against the people at work, particularly those who seek a place under the sun on account of their exclusion and adverse inclusion in the growth of the GDP by the well-to-do and for the well-to-do. It is these people, forced to find a toe-hold in the informal economy, who constitute the castaways of partisan growth in the easy entry informal economy. One can just refer to the seminal work of the Dutch scholar, Jan Breman, who has spent many decades exploring the nature, extent and implications of socio-economic change and development in many parts of Gujarat by means of extended periods of field studies during different periods. This kind of evidence is available in plenty to suggest that the neo-liberal policies have never and nowhere helped the people, though their capacity to deliver highly volatile, iniquitous, unbalanced and costly growth has been sited in many countries and regions.

A State such as Gujarat has never been strong on grassroots commitments owing to its socio-economic structure. That may well be among the factors which make the BJP a srong force and throw up an aggressive leadership with a ruthlessness characteristic of the neo-rich. The decline of the Congress (something which seems to be the story repeated on the all-India scale before long) and its attempts to simply ride on some caste-equations seem unlikely, one may suggest with some justifi-cation, to work for long. But such narrow gains-based coalitions of different socio-economic forces are inherently unstable and full of contradictions, It means neither can the BJP remain firmly in the saddle unless the people at large remain stupefied owing to its divisive agenda and actions. May be similar threats engulf the BJP as well as it has basically replaced the Congress by becoming the voice of largely similar strata and groups minus, of course, the minorities. How far can the support of the strong NRI community originating from Gujarat go is also something of an imponderable. With the rising capital-intensity of growth and growing backlog of the people without a secure and adequate means of livelihood and in the absence of any alternative agenda and mobilisa-tion forthcoming, Gujarat, like much of the rest of India is entering highly choppy and uncertain waters.

What all these random ideas and patchy generalisations point out is the need, as in the case of the rest of India, to undertake a serious rethinking of the development question. A drastic departure from the prevailing character of growth, essentially and typically its disequa-lising, distortions-ridden nature involving high capital-output ratio, transferring land and natural resources away from the peasantry to the mercantile and financial communities, unbalanced growth, threatening the social fabric owing to its highly partisan outcomes cannot be argued too strongly. After all, Gujarat is quintessentially a close cousin, if not exactly a replica, of the rest of India. 

A noted economist, the author was a Professor of Economic Development and Decentralised Planning holding the Malcolm S. Adiseshiah Chair at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi.

Human Development: Inter-State Comparisons

• Bihar has the highest decadal (2001-11) growth rate of population (25.07 per cent), while Kerala has the lowest rate (4.86 per cent).

• In 2011, Kerala has the highest sex ratio with 1084 females per 1000 males, followed by Tamil Nadu (995), while Haryana is at the bottom (877).

• The best performers in terms of growth during 2011-12 are Bihar (16.71 per cent) followed by Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

• Kerala is the best performer in terms of life expectancy at birth for both males (71.5 years) and females (76.9 years) whereas Assam is the worst performer for both males (61 years) and females (63.2 years) during 2006-10.

• In terms of decadal growth rate in bank branches, Haryana (59.5 per cent) has the highest growth and Bihar the lowest (14.4 per cent).