Marketing a myth

Print edition : May 20, 2011

Narendra Modi seems to have set aside Hindutva to appease big business while the human development indices of Gujarat keep falling.

in Vadodara

Chief Minister Narendra Modi poses for a group photograph with business delegates during the concluding ceremony of the 5th Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors Summit 2011 in Gandhinagar on January 13.-PTI

WHEN Anna Hazare praised Chief Minister Narendra Modi for his achievements in rural development in Gujarat, it resulted in a slew of messages to the veteran Gandhian from outraged non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and activists.

Rohit Prajapati and Trupti Shah, both social activists in Gujarat, said they had spent five days drafting their reply to Annaji but felt it was worth it because it had to be said. They said in their message to Hazare: The statement of Annaji creates a wrong impression. It endorses Modi's authoritarian, fascist government, which is anti-farmer, anti-women, anti-working class, anti-Dalit, anti-tribal, anti-minorities, anti-environment, and against all the marginalised groups.

A response also came from social activist and danseuse Mallika Sarabhai, who called Hazare's endorsement appalling and threatened to distance herself from the Lokpal movement unless Hazare irrevocably retracted his statement. Quick to point out the irony of the situation was the social activist Teesta Setalvad, who said there had been no Lokayukta in Gujarat for almost seven years.

Prajapati and Shah invited Hazare to Gujarat to see the so-called development work of a Chief Minister who turned his back on scores of farmers who demand their right to farming as in the case of the Mahuva agitation; on tribal people who seek forest land, and turned a blind eye to pollution in towns and villages like Ankleshwar, Vapi, Nandesari, Vatva, Saurashtra and Kutch and fishing communities being deprived of their livelihood in Kutch.

Gujarat is a State divided. At one end there is progress: 90 per cent of the village roads are paved; 98 per cent of the villages are electrified, with 80 per cent of them having electrified homes and 18 hours of electricity every day; and 86 per cent have piped water supply and good phone connections, banks, post offices and bus services. But amid all this, there are falling human development and social indices and rising corruption, which is all the more unacceptable because of the clean and progressive image that is being projected of the State.

Three big scams in two years have done little to promote Modi's Vibrant Gujarat. There was the Rs.1,700 crore Sujalam Sufalam scam in 2009: labourers who were to be given wheat in exchange for digging ponds in fields were given rice instead by local fair price traders although they had been paid wheat prices by the government. Many of the ponds were dug' only on paper and large stocks of the rice were sent to Maharashtra and sold there at a profit. Also in 2009 came the Rs.260 crore scam pertaining to the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme: non-existent traders sold boris (sacks) to set up sandbag check dams, non-existent labourers were registered, and NREGA funds were misappropriated. In 2010, it was found that the Fisheries Minister had been awarding contracts for fishing in 58 reservoirs across the State. Reservoir fishing is awarded on the basis of tenders. It was alleged that the irregularity cost the State exchequer Rs.600 crore.

In 2003, Modi initiated the Vibrant Gujarat Summit to attract investors to the State. The first time he attracted proposals worth Rs.69 crore. In 2005, he got Rs.1 lakh crore. Then Rs.4 lakh crore in 2007, Rs.12 lakh crore in 2009 and almost Rs.21 lakh crore in 2011.

So what is it that the investors get in return for this undoubted confidence they have placed in Modi? In a nutshell, they get easy access to land and water wherever they want it. They also get tax exemptions for five years in which they are also exempt from labour laws. In this easy scheme of things, agricultural land is easily turned into non-agricultural land and tribal land is handed over to industries. Companies that have been polluters and have been hauled up by courts and ordered to clean up their act respond by simply moving out to new areas.

Vibrant Gujarat operates on a straightforward principle roll out the red carpet for big money and ensure that everything is placed at its disposal. Social indices such as health, especially of women and children; education; the status of minorities; the economic health of the middle class and the poor; jobs, livelihoods and environmental concerns are all taking a back seat in what people are beginning to call the race to help the already rich.

Exclusive club

The beneficiaries seem to be a small and exclusive club. Employment generation has not kept up with that in other States. Teesta Setalvad, in an article entitled Vibrant Gujarat summit 2011 Ridiculous show-off of Power, has compared the investment and employment opportunities of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. She concludes that from 2006 to 2010, Maharashtra had Rs.4,20,546 crore in investment and employment opportunities worth Rs.8,63,395; and Tamil Nadu had investments worth Rs.1,63,280 crore and employment opportunities worth Rs.13,09,613, whereas Gujarat had investments worth Rs.5,35,873 crore and employment opportunities worth Rs.6,47,631.

Teesta Setalvad's analysis says: At the end of the year 2009-10 in Gujarat there were 8,32,000 educated unemployed people. Number of educated unemployed people was 9,64,000 in 2004, 9,00,000 in 2005, 8,30,000 in 2006, 7,78,000 in 2007, 8,25,000 in 2008 and in 2009 also it was 8,25,000. Now if in the year 2003, 2005, 2007 there has been capital investment as per [what the] Chief Minister says, then why there has not been any significant decrease in the number of these unemployed people?

Prajapati and Shah say that the growth in Gujarat is of a job killing kind: The success story of the two-digit growth has masked the several-digit realities of loss of livelihood, land acquisition, displacement and permanent loss of natural resources, which are treated as free goods in this process. The investment figure without the displacement and depletion of natural resources figure, and the employment figure without loss of livelihood does not make sense, they said in their message to Hazare.

Dr Abusaleh Shariff, Chief Economist, National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) and member-secretary of the Sachar Committee, said: Gujarat fares better on direct income measures, but this apparent prosperity masks higher poverty levels and a much lower ranking in human development. According to a study carried out by Shariff, Gujarat's share is only 5 per cent in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, reflecting the State's inadequate commitment to income generation for the poor. He also said levels of hunger in Gujarat were high and comparable to those in Orissa and Bihar. Only Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh had higher hunger levels, he said.

The Reserve Bank of India's 10-year report from January 2000 to March 2010 on foreign direct investment put paid to the notion that Gujarat attracted high FDI. Maharashtra attracted FDI worth Rs.17 lakh crore during this period; New Delhi Rs.10 lakh crore; Tamil Nadu Rs.2.4 lakh crore; Andhra Pradesh Rs.2 lakh crore; and Gujarat Rs.2.8 lakh crore.

The easy availability of land and resources is perhaps the biggest challenge before new industry today, and this is what Modi offers. The Mahuva and Orpat Limited cases highlight how people (especially farmers) are ridden roughshod over by the government in the rush to give land to industries. In the Mahuva case, the local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator objected to a project that Modi had cleared. In 1999, the then Chief Minister, Keshubhai Patel of the BJP, had ordered the building of four CDTRS (check dam cum tidal regulatory structure) at a cost of over Rs.60 crore. Located in a stretch of 40 km, these were supposed to turn thousands of hectares of land arable. Local farmers were delighted, but their joy was short-lived because the land was handed over to a washing soap company that was diversifying into cement. The land perfectly suited the company's purpose because it had the limestone deposits essential for cement production. But the mining of limestone would spell doom for the natural barrier against salinisation of arable lands. Local resistance to the idea was quashed by goons.

The 214-hectare plant coming up at a cost of Rs.1,400 crore will require a mining lease for over 3,200 hectares. This will displace about 5,000 families, that is, over 30,000 people. Agriculture has been the backbone of Mahuva, which is relatively prosperous and dependent on 20 cotton gins and 50 onion dehydration units.

In February 2010, local MLA Dr Kanubhai Kalsariya organised a rally of the people of the dozen affected villages. Modi rejected the petition of the 5,000 Mahuva residents who walked to Gandhinagar to ask him to cancel the land lease for the plant.

In Saurashtra, a similar land acquisition plan was unfolding. As part of the Vibrant Gujarat scheme, Orpat industries was granted 40 ha of land in Wankaner district to construct a tourist resort. Wankaner is in a drought-prone area. Two shocking concessions were made for Orpat. It was given land at Rs.40 per square metre and sole access to the Garida pond, the lone waterbody in the area that was used for drinking water and irrigation. It was walled off by Orpat.

Angry farmers approached the High Court, which stayed all activity on the site and in March this year ordered that water be released into irrigation canals. Local residents have also challenged the all-too-speedy allotment of land and the price at which it was given. The High Court is expected to give its order on both soon.

Fr Lancy Lobo of the Centre for Culture and Development in Vadodara has been studying development and displacement in Gujarat since Independence. His report entitled Development-Induced Displacement in Gujarat 1947-2004, co-authored with Shashikant Kumar, shows 4,00,000 households displaced in 57 years of Independence; this means that 5 per cent of the State's population was affected by developmental projects. Lobo says that a study of 80,000 Gazette notifications of the Government of Gujarat and files from Land Acquisition Departments from 25 Collectorates shows that 33,00,000 hectares of land was acquired in this period.

Shadow of 2002 riots

The communal killings of 2002 still haunt Gujarat. Not only were the camps for the riot-affected closed down with unseemly haste but the ghettoisation of the minority community continues because of the general sense of insecurity. Though it is common to hear it being said that Muslims have moved on, the scars are still fresh for the community. If they have moved on, it is because they have had to, not because they were assisted or encouraged to. There are huge advertisements and posters of Modi's meeting with Muslim leaders, but within the community this is seen for what it is buying of peace.

In a study titled Relative Development of Gujarat and Socio-Religious Differentials, Shariff says, Empirical evidence suggests that relative to other States and relative to other communities, Muslims in Gujarat are facing high levels of discrimination and deprivation.

Indeed, the discrimination extends beyond Muslims to all those who opposed Modi at the time of the riots. Serving Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Sanjiv Bhatt, who has brought on record certain crucial aspects relating to cases from 2002, is Modi's latest victim. The special police protection given to him has been withdrawn, presumably because he did not fall in line.

Lobo says that despite all his bravado, 2002 still haunts Modi. He believes Modi has passed from Hindutva to Gujarati asmita (self-respect) to development. He is trying to offset 2002. I'm not saying he has forgotten the past. It is just dormant for the time being because his focus is development, and development for him means industry right now. And so agriculture is suffering. Tribal people are suffering. Sixty per cent of the land that has been acquired for water resources is in tribal areas. Not only is water being taken away from the tribal people, but the places where it is being sent are already prosperous areas. After globalisation this is the dominant paradigm of development. He is laying the foundation for himself in Delhi in 2020.

Modi is able to steamroll his way in the State because the bureaucracy is scared and the opposition is ineffective. Lobo feels there is a strange understanding between Modi and the Congress, and this seems to be helping Modi consolidate his position further.

However, in March, State Congress president Arjun Modhwadia released some telling statistics. Citing figures from the report of the Suresh P. Tendulkar Committee appointed by the Planning Commission, Modhwadia said 31.8 per cent of the State's population lived below the poverty line. This meant that Gujarat had the highest percentage of poor people in the country. Claiming government statistics as his source, Modhwadia announced that 9,829 workers, 5,447 farmers and 919 farm labourers had committed suicide in the State during Narendra Modi's tenure as Chief Minister.

Undercurrents

So, will Modi's one-sided growth alienate large sections of society? Are his actions creating a gulf between him and his assured voters? There seem to be small rumblings, undercurrents that indicate that his hard-core voters are slightly disgruntled.

They are hesitant to consider the Congress because the party quite obviously lacks a presence. Also, the dominant feeling is still that Modi has restored Gujarati asmita. Speaking plainly, this gives validation to the conflict between Hindus and Muslims. Asmita is a thinly veiled term implying that the minority community has been taught a lesson and put in its place.

Those who are the new victims of Modi's development goals are in a state of confusion. The man they saw as their hero is now creating policies that are affecting them adversely. There is a feeling of being let down and a reluctance to admit it.

In Luna village near Vadodara, farmers who voted for the BJP are still hesitant to speak against the party though they admit that the party's policies are destroying their livelihoods. They see the BJP as a Hindu party and as Hindus they want to support it. In return they expect favourable policies. That this is not happening is causing some turmoil and they are unwilling to express it openly.

The realisation that Modi has set aside his Hindutva plan, albeit temporarily, and is now set on a course that discriminates on economic grounds is an idea that is yet to sink in among Luna's farmers. Once it does, there is every possibility that the tables may be turned, and Modi may need to change his game plan.

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