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The real reason why Narendra Modi's supporters want him as PM

Last updated on: June 06, 2012 15:20 IST
If Bihar is clocking much higher growth than Gujarat, and Nitish Kumar enjoys the confidence of Hindus and Muslims alike, does it not make Nitish Kumar a much better contender for Prime Ministership than Narendra Modi, asks Shivam Vij

Although Gujarat's economy grew by a good 9 per cent in 2011-12, it is far from India's fastest growing states. It does not even figure in the top five, which is populated by Bihar, Delhi, Puducherry, Chhattisgarh and Goa.

While it is true that states like Bihar and Chhattisgarh are growing from a much lower base and are thus able to show a better rate of growth, the figures do puncture Gujarat's relentless PR of standing out in terms of economic progress with the rest of India. For instance, Delhi, too, does not have a low base to begin with, and yet grew by 11.3 pc.

The figures do show a disconnect between truth and hype around Gujarat's economic miracle. What are the discontents of this hype? A new study by Abusaleh Shariff of the National Council for Applied Economic Research shows that in most economic data, Gujarat is on 4th to 6th spot.

The proponents of Narendra Modi-for-PM argue that despite the 2002 violence, Modi should be prime minister because of Gujarat's economic miracle. But Shariff's paper, published in April by the Washington DC-based US-India Policy Institute, makes you wonder why leaders of states that have performed even better should not by that logic be supported for prime ministership.

Truth vs Hype

Consider this. The hype around Gujarat's economy has suggested that it is the favourite destination of foreign investors. Shariff's study, however, looks up the numbers to find that 'in the past decade Gujarat received less than 1/6th the FDI received by Maharashtra and less than 1/3rd the FDI received by Delhi'.

Shariff writes: 'The size of cumulative inflows from January 2000 to March 2010 has been highest in Maharashtra with 1.75 lakh crores, followed by New Delhi at 1.02 lakh crore. Even the state of Karnataka has received 31 thousand crores, which is
higher than the FDI in Gujarat only with 28 thousand crores.'

Look at the per capita net state domestic product, a better indicator of prosperity than the mere rate of growth. Gujarat has been occupying 6th or 7th rank on this list since the early '70s and it's not as if Narendra Modi's leadership made Gujarat jump up to the top end of the list.

Haryana, Maharashtra, Kerala and Punjab have consistently been ahead of Gujarat in this list and Modi's leadership has at best been able to make Gujarat go one step ahead of Tamil Nadu. The only exception to Gujarat's ranking was in 1996-97, when Gujarat was rank 4, and Narendra Modi wasn't the chief minister.

While Gujarat is near Haryana, Maharashtra, Kerala and Punjab in terms of NSDP, it is not in the league of those states when it comes to taking care of something as basic as hunger. The lack of irrigation means that there's more hunger among the poor in Gujarat as compared to a state like Uttar Pradesh, which has a much lower NSDP.

Gujarat is in the same slot of high hunger states as Orissa, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Bihar. However, Rajasthan too is not blessed with Haryana or UP-like river systems but Rajasthan has been, with pro-poor policies, able to reduce hunger and is the same league of "moderate" hunger as UP, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. So much for Vibrant Gujarat?

States with high incomes and lower average poverty figures generally do well on the Human Development Index but Shariff's study points out this is not the case with Gujarat. Shariff writes: 'Gujarat has recorded relatively lower level of human development ranking compared with its poverty ranking -- while in latter 2000s it tops at 6th level in income, but is placed one level lower in poverty (that is higher poverty relative to income) but ranked 9th in HDI, far too low which is unexpected.'

Put simply, even a poor state like Orissa is able to maximise its relative wealth for human development. Shariff says, 'The higher income levels must yield better human development, generally speaking, as people will be in a better position to make investments in education, health and wellbeing.' An indicator of this is the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, in whose implementation Gujarat has been found to be one of the worst states.

Only for Hindus?

All of this is not to say Gujarat hasn't seen high growth or development, but only to point out that other states have done much better. Another to question to ask is whether this growth has been inclusive. Shariff uses NSSO data, NCAER development surveys and the Sachar committee report to show that poverty among urban Muslims in Gujarat is 800 pc more than high caste Hindus and 50 pc more than Hindu-OBCs and SC-STs.

Sixty pc of Gujarat's Muslims live in urban areas and these figures show how they are the most marginalised group. In rural areas, poverty amongst Muslims is 200 pc  higher than high caste Hindus. Unlike other states such as Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat has not attempted to alleviate this with affirmative action.

Shariff writes, 'While Muslims have bank accounts proportionate to the size of population, the bank loan amount outstanding which is an indicator of financial inclusion is only 2.6 percent. Muslims are also found to be soft targets for petty thefts and harassment of girls compared to other communities.'

Data about education shows similar disparities. While 75 pc Muslims enroll for primary education only 26 pc reach matriculation. Shariff writes, 'Muslims, who had about the same level of education in the past, are found to have left behind compared with even the SC-STs who have caught up with higher education. Startling is the fact that the in recent years it is high caste Hindus who have benefitted most from the public provisioning of higher education and the SC-STs are catching up and the Muslims are left behind. The disparity in access to higher education is increasing over time. This clearly is an evidence of discrimination in provisioning of higher education access, infrastructure and related services.'

And here's some proof of discrimination: Gujarat is the only state to not have implemented central government scholarships for students from minority communities, started in 2008.

Similar disparity is seen in employment. There's a sizable 10 pc gap in the work participation rate between Hindus (71 pc) and Muslims (61 pc). This is higher than a poorer state like West Bengal. Most states have a higher percentage of Muslims than Hindus in manufacturing and organised sector, the study says, because of their traditional mechanical skills. Only in Gujarat is the reverse true.

Shariff writes, 'There was a time when Muslims dominated the state's textile industry in power looms, textile mills and handlooms; and in diamond cutting and polishing industry not to speak of chemical, pharmaceutical and processing industries. But now Muslims barely make it to the workforce in the manufacturing and organised sector in Gujarat.'

For this reason perhaps, Muslims are self-employed and into petty trade in larger numbers in Gujarat than in other states, vis-a-vis Hindus.

All of which combines with the lack of security Muslims suffer with even today, 10 years after the 2002 violence. Particularly in rural areas, Muslims reported a much higher percentage of thefts, burglary and harassment of adolescent girls, than the percentage of household they occupy.  

Modi for PM?

Narendra Modi's supporters argue that he should be prime minister of India considering his performance as an able administrator of Gujarat, who has brought about development and prosperity. Shariff's study, however, shows that Gujarat's economic achievements are overhyped -- they are good but they are not a miraculous turn-around caused by Modi. It is not as if Gujarat was lagging behind when Modi took over, they way Bihar was lagging behind when Nitish Kumar took over.

Especially considering Gujarat's growth hasn't been particularly inclusive for the poor or for the Muslim minority, and since Gujarat is not the top state in terms of growth, why don't we consider other regional leaders for prime ministership? Why not a Sheila Dikshit, under whose chief ministership Delhi, a much smaller state, has received much more FDI than Gujarat? Or Nitish Kumar, who unlike Modi also inspires confidence among minorities?

All of which makes you wonder if development is the real reason why Modi supporters want him to be prime minister. Could it be a smoke-screen for other, politically incorrect reasons? Could the small but vocal minority of Modi supporters be enamoured of him because, as they see it, he has 'taught Muslims a lesson'?

I think so, and which is precisely why I don't want Modi to be my prime minister.

 

Shivam Vij