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Gujarat Model, AWOL

It is missing from the BJP’s campaign for the state. What might replace it?

Written by Seema Chishti |
Updated: December 2, 2017 12:15:46 am
Narendra Modi on Gujarat model However, no leader had sold Gujarat to the world as a “model” quite in the way that the BJP, led by Modi as chief minister since 2002, did in 2014.  (Express Photo/Amit Mehra/File)

Recently, the conversation around the Gujarat election campaign has centred around janeus (“are you a Hindu?”) and issues that are distant both physically and temporally — “Kashmir and Rohingyas”, the Somnath temple and Nehru’s role. Despite a lot of noise, the one thing that suddenly went missing from the campaign was the “Gujarat Model”. For an idea that powered a full general election campaign and gave India its first majority government in 30 years, its going AWOL is a serious concern.

So after India has been won, ostensibly via Gujarat’s famed policies set to be replicated as “achhe din” for the country, why are the incumbents not selling the same dream in the state? Why has the narrative become more about “Gorakhpur governance”, with Adityanath, the chief minister of UP, making trips even in areas seen as a cakewalk for the BJP? Could it be because, as Christophe Jaffrelot points out, the number of educated-unemployed — 6.12 lakh in 2016 — has increased and the farmers argue that their daily income — Rs 264 in 2016 — is Rs 77, less than the national average? Or, perhaps, it is because the Gujarat Model, meant to promote SEZs, make land acquisitions easier and labour laws “stricter”, went kaput for a variety of factors.

BJP leaders, in their speeches, now invoke an “evil” Congress past — of not allowing things to be done. This despite the fact that for 22 years, the argument was the exact opposite. The narrative was that much has gone right for Gujarat, making it India’s premium state.

But, as Achyut Yagnik and Suchitra Sheth alert us in The Shaping of Modern Gujarat: Plurality, Hindutva and Beyond, “Gujarat was the first region in the Indian Subcontinent to encounter the English East India Company” when the flagship Hector dropped anchor at Surat in 1608. That, in some ways underscored what the Gujarat Model symbolised and what has always been understood as a significant characteristic of the state — its enterprise, an effervescence that marks its entrepreneurial spirit. Statistics over hundreds of years bear testimony to the growth of mercantilism, capitalism and newer forms of business that the Gujarati proudly embodied, not just in India, but beyond.

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This image of Gujarat is intertwined with a long history of political organisation. Some of India’s tallest political leaders — Gandhi, Patel — are from here. As are some of its most divisive leaders so far, for example, Mohammed Ali Jinnah. PM Narendra Modi still exercises sway here.

However, no leader had sold Gujarat to the world as a “model” quite in the way that the BJP, led by Modi as chief minister since 2002, did in 2014. The massive communication drive, via speeches, cherry-picked statistics and holograms, brought a sense of Gujarati tinsel to faraway lands. There were scores of interpretations of what the Gujarat Model actually meant or stood for. Was it the sharp line of communal conflict? Or a devotion to infrastructure, roads, etc, that drew Indians to seek employment in the state that defined the Gujarat Model? Or was the Gujarat Model simply the Nano plant moving from Singur in West Bengal to Sanand, Gujarat, with its “ease of doing business” and “single window clearance”? There were a variety of things that the ‘Gujarat’ template meant, especially in the run-up to the 2014 general election campaign — a land of opportunities and a state that worked well.

Faultlines, of course, are a part of politics. Like the BJP arguing that the Congress is invoking caste identities, as in the KHAM era of the 1980s, which is alleged to be synonymous with lawlessness. There is another argument, that in the post-Hindutva state, with Gujarat having more or less achieved “peace” post-2002, and with the Congress having played along, there is not much of a case to be made about slaying the enemy within. So, young people born in 1995, now 22 years old, are engaged in questions more basic, and far tougher to handle.

It is a fact that the past two-and-a-half years have witnessed economic slowdowns and unrest on the streets. Economic agitation has often intersected with social divides and erupted in protests, now common, for example, with Dalits at Una and the Patidars in Becharji. These have altered what would have likely been a smooth run to the finishing-line envisaged by the BJP a few months ago.

The results of the elections will unfold on December 18. But the campaign is important, as it has outlined the mood of what may follow in the months ahead, as we head towards 2019. The absence of the “Gujarat Model” does not bode well. Especially because of what might replace it once even the promise of “acche din” is pushed off the plank.

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