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Next time intellectuals complain about Gujarat, can they provide some evidence?

Written by Surjit S Bhalla | Published: April 26, 2014 12:04 am
No intellectual points for the miraculous agricultural growth in Gujarat under Modi, a growth that primarily benefits the poor (and so is inclusive, equality inducing etc). No intellectual points for the miraculous agricultural growth in Gujarat under Modi, a growth that primarily benefits the poor (and so is inclusive, equality inducing etc).

Next time intellectuals complain about Gujarat, can they provide some evidence?

The intellectual letter season is in full bloom. It must be because along with spring, fascism is around the corner. No matter which left turn you take — JNU, The Hindu, Oxbridge, The Guardian, and even the nominally not left-wing The Economist —  you have intellectuals dreading the future — Narendra Modi as authoritarian, as dictator, as the great divider, as apocalypse personified. And just two days ago, we had no less an authority on learning and intellectuals than Father Frazer Mascarenhas, principal of one of the most prestigious colleges in India, St Xavier’s in Mumbai, pontificating to his students. In a letter leaked to the nation, Mascarenhas pleaded and cajoled his students to “choose well”, to make a choice which “will see India prosper or flounder on the precipice”.

Each and every missive recently sent out by the intellectuals (at least six in the public domain and countless others in equally misleading conversations) contains mandatory and aggressive references to the 2002 Godhra riots. Such condemnation is very desirable in a democracy like ours because such events should never happen in a civilised country, and never again. The prestigious Salman Rushdie, Anish Kapoor et al letter to The Guardian reminds us that “it is crucial to remember the role played by the Modi government in the horrifying events that took place in Gujarat in 2002”. However, not one intellectual letter contains any reference to the larger-scale riot, actually worse, pogrom, that took place in 1984 in Delhi, when members of only one community, the Sikhs, were the “victims of pillage, murder and terror”. For those keeping count, over 8,000 Sikhs were killed nationwide in 1984 and over 3,000 in the capital alone.

Two wrongs do not make a right, but isn’t it a terrible wrong for the intellectual to not even mention, let alone acknowledge, that a major wrong took place in their (the Congress’s) secular India in 1984? They know full well that the Gujarat rioters took many cues and directions from the Delhi pogrom murderers —  they got their strategy of pinpointing victims (from the addresses on electoral rolls) and their belief that they would not be punished for their crimes because nobody had been punished for the 1984 riots. Indeed, the accused political leaders involved in the 1984 riots had been given cabinet posts in subsequent Congress administrations. If these intellectuals had acted post the 1984 riots with even a quarter of the dedication they are mustering now, maybe, just maybe, Godhra 2002 would not have happened. And yes, how many of the oh-so-secular-intellectuals have noted that before the blood of 8,000 Sikhs had even dried, the oh-so-secular Congress party called for national elections, within two weeks of the pogrom? And capitalised on the Sikh killing fields by winning 415 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha.

Not mentioning the 1984 riots is a grotesque error of omission. But there are many errors of commission in the letters from the intellectuals. The major errors of commission involve communicating (whether to impressionable students at Xavier’s or to fellow travellers) that there is something not just wrong, but spectacularly wrong, with the so-called Gujarat model of development.

This intellectual opposition to Gujarat’s Modi is garbed in terms of negatives. For example, the model is not secular, favours the rich (Adani and Ambani) at the expense of the poor (tribals and Muslims). It is not an inclusive model of development —  inequality has increased, the environment has deteriorated, water is not there, electricity connections are there but electrons are not available, etc.

No intellectual points for the miraculous agricultural growth in Gujarat under Modi, a growth that primarily benefits the poor (and so is inclusive, equality inducing etc). The intellectual is on safer ground when it comes to aspects of life other than income, because no one can counter their bluff, counter their ideology or prove them wrong. For example, sociologist Shiv Visvanathan (again in a letter) eloquently cites Amartya Sen and the worthiness of the Human Development Index and openly challenges Modi to “read the report and tell us where Gujarat really stands”. No evidence is provided because once one mentions Nobel laureate Sen, no evidence is needed (for the intellectual). And in echoes of Arundhati Roy and Father Mascarenhas (do left intellectuals move in packs?), Visvanathan says, “Gujarat is home to some of the great tribal, nomadic populations and some of [the] great craft societies. What will happen to them when development occurs?”

A sine qua non feature of self-proclaimed anti-Modi intellectuals (is there any other kind?) is never to cite any empirical evidence in their accusations. Since both Mascarenhas and Visvanathan go out of their way to cite the sorry, and worsening, state of tribals in Gujarat, it should be at least intellectually worthwhile to examine some interrelated questions about Modi and the welfare of Scheduled Tribes (STs) in Gujarat. In the pursuit of intellectual excellence, let me assert that it is nobody’s case, not even the intellectuals’, that Modi should have made the tribals the richest citizens of Gujarat. The yardstick is simple and straightforward — improvement in the standard of living of tribals in Gujarat should at least be equal to tribals elsewhere in India. If there has been less improvement than the average then one can begin to question the worthiness of the Gujarat model; if greater than average improvement, then perhaps there is something to be said about the Gujarat model.

Data on poverty levels, and reduction in poverty levels, for all states with an ST population above 10 per cent, and all India, are reported for the years 1983, 1993-94, 1999-00 and 2011-12. Woman does not exist by bread alone, and it is not my contention that only income levels matter. However, especially for the poor, decline in absolute poverty should be the number one policy concern. In this regard, Modi’s Gujarat is a stellar performer, or in plain English, has done the most (along with Assam) for the tribal population. Madhya Pradesh and Orissa are some distance behind, and Rajasthan, of Sonia Gandhi’s Congress-dole-economics fame, and the darling of the intellectuals, performs the worst. The rate of poverty decline in Rajasthan, in the Modi years, 1999-00 (NSS) to 2012, is less than half of the average pace of decline in India, minus 0.7 per cent per annum.

The ST population in Gujarat has witnessed a 29 percentage point (ppt) decline in poverty since 1999-00 compared to an all-India decline of 22 ppt. And this is the largest decline in the country, that is, the tribals, notwithstanding Mascarenhas or Visvanathan, have done the “best” under Modi. My plea to all, laypersons and intellectuals, is to look at both qualitative and quantitative conclusions before pontificating or lecturing, or just plain evaluating policies and outcomes. Of course, if we look at only qualitative evidence, then the intellectuals have an unfair advantage, an advantage derived from insider trading. And that is grossly unfair, no?

The writer is chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory firm, and a senior advisor to Zyfin, a leading financial information company


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  1. S
    sumitra kumar
    Apr 26, 2014 at 6:41 am
    Insightful and sharp. Analysis above ideological alliance.
    1. N
      n vijayaraghavan
      Apr 26, 2014 at 1:27 am
      VIMOCHANAM VARANASI------------------------------------------------------Well, Well,Well. Modi has filed his nomination. Bilkul,Mata Ganga ne inko bulaya hoga. Desko bachaanekeliye. Aur kuch nahi.Now what?Benares Beckoned and AK 49 obliged by contesting.Now what?It allstarted with the tall talk thati) Oldguard in BJP was well entrenched and Modi will find it tough to displace them without splitting the partyii) Modihas antagonized the Sangh parivar- read RSS, VHP in particular by not ‘panderingto their mischief’ in Gujarat in the last 12 yearsiii) Thenwhen Modi was made Campaign Chief- LKA pla the Petulant Pitamahaiv) ThenModi became the PM nominee- LKA and & Co acquiescedv) Mediastarted playing the tune that it was RSS conspiracy to make Modi and ‘retire the elders’.vi) ThenLKA-Bhopal, MM Joshi-Varanasi and Jaswant-playing spoilsport- it was entertainmentto bait Modi that he was displaying his dictatorial tendenciesvii) Thingssettled down- AK 49 gave up corruptionand became the official B Team of Cong saying the communist language ‘Communalism was a greater danger than corruption’-viii) Modi’s Yashodhara was fleetinglyraised but when warned of ‘skeletons in the cupboard’- quietly given upix) Then2002 is raked up all over, that Modibecoming PM spelt danger to diverseBharat- Hindusthaniyat was in peril( Matashree)x) Bollywood-Artfilm makers/St Xavier’s Prinl- play footsie ( Giriraj’s and Tagodia offeredammunition)xi) Now,Modi is a megalomaniac - he has towered above BJP and has become a One ManParty-xii) NowWhat?xiii) Modi’s road Road show was proof of ‘frenzied hysteria’-it is “manufactured consensus’- Got to Thesarus for more -it is anathema toDemocracyxiv) NDTV/CNN IBN- no big Modi fans- go gaga over the Varanasi spectacle and admitted that it was ‘spontaneous’ and ‘overwhelming’ and ‘the aamadmi in Varanasi’ was truly MODIfied and it would have ‘National Implications’xv) Nowwhat?xvi) ‘They’ have now come down like atonne of bricks on Congress for all their shenanigans/scams and it theywho have yielded space for ‘others’ to pay the price. hath no fury on Congress for making Modi the Maut ka Saudagar/leher nahi zeher not solong ago, look like a saint nowxvii) The last and only Brahma Asthramleft? In 1932 Adolph Hitler won through the Ballot and he had the support ofthe Corporates and he became the despised Furehr. What else?Thank You, “INTELLECTUALS’. We have had enough of this non sense. You are running out ofideas. Please reserve some of your visceral hatred for penning Editorials andopp Ed pieces after 16th May.Every one cannot leave India like UR Ananthamurthy or leave Karnataka like DeveGowda. Most have to earn your bread, butter and jam more in dear Bharat alone.Please havea heart. Spare some sense. We too areintelligent. India 2014 is no Germany 1932. Do not lose your perspective in the name of expressing your despise forModi. You may hate Modi. That is fine. That is your prerogative. But DO NOT INSULT US. INSULT OUR INSUITIONS.For heaven’s sake. No.The animosityand hatred that is pouring out of these folks is stunning. But it is keepingwith their past proclivities. One would have been surprised and shocked if theyhad so much conceded that Modi did have the groundswell on his side and all ofit was not B Modi marketing or manufactured.These folks would soon lose their bearings whenModi is sworn in as PM. Tomes would be written “ India Turns Communal”.” Curn Congress for their scam ridden regime which paved this way” ”When would Modireveal his Spots’. “ Sangh Parivar starts its under the radar culturalbrainwashing” “ Minorities feel threatened” . My imagination is running out.There could be far worse predictions.Let us beblunt.i) Modiof 2014 is no Maut ka Saudagar even if he was one in 2002-2004ii) Modiis RSS brought up but no Sangh Parivarofficianado of the Mutalik/Taggodia genre ( Modi hates them as the Modi baitershate Modi- if that is enough ‘hate’)iii) Hehas smelt that India of 2014 is aspirational and wants India to move on- fromthe 3 core issues of BJP- now the manifesto puts them where they belong- at theend- and that also is looked at with derisioniv) Modi’sVaranasi speech was reflective of his ‘inclusiveness’- talked of the MuslimWeavers, Budhism, cleansing Ganga and of course kite flying industry of Gujaratrun by Muslims in particular as a 700 crore industry from a mere Rs.35 croreone- yes- spots have changed and changed differently than WHAT THESE Intellectuals would like to admit.How much can they swallow pride? They already have indigestion.v) Yes,he would be decisive- with a genuine streakof authoritarianism- but that is what India needs today- read Breakout Nations-by Ruchir Sharma- you need a tough CEO for India not a democratic Board ofDirectorsvi) Morethan anyone else- Modi realizes thatwhat has pitchforked him from the hated soul to the darling of the mes is his Development and Governancethemevii) Modiwould thoroughly, thoroughly disappoint his baiters by putting the so calledsangh parivar loonies, where they belong- on the fringesviii) Last but not the least, his dictatorial streak would bebenign and not Hitlerite for he realizes more than any one else that theInsutions in India are sound, hard and bold and any transgressions wouldland him in deep trouble and when in power, the mes would be unsparing andthere are no incentives for him to do so when he has lappedup so many plaudits and laurels as a decisive leader to a young, aspirational Indiayearning for HOPE.Jai Hind.