In Vibrant Gujarat

Print edition : December 21, 2007

Narendra Modi, Gujarat Chief Minister. - AJIT SOLANKI/AP

The communal divide and the growing urban-rural disparities will be the deciding factors.

Narendra Modi, Gujarat

MAYBE it is the potbellied stockbroker wearing chunky diamond rings, the sentimental non-resident Indian with romantic notions of his homeland or the perfumed women who shop at malls instead of markets. But aside from the AC brigade, it is difficult to imagine who would buy into the Vibrant Gujarat idea.

If you get out of air-conditioned comfort and smell the gutter, there is a repulsive stink. And it is not the stink of just the rotting bodies of those killed in the communal carnage of 2002; it is also of the pesticide lying on the floor next to the farmer who swallowed the fatal dose, the sewage in the slums and the lethal cocktail of gases in the industrial towns.

The posters of Chief Minister Narendra Modi that dominate the traffic proclaim Jeetega Gujarat (Gujarat will be victorious). He is no longer talking about Godhra or terrorism. This time round, he is boasting of his achievements. Gujarat is the number one State in the country. We are showing the way forward to others. We have the highest growth rate and have attracted the most foreign investments, says Vijay Rupani, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson. In the past six months, Modi has spent Rs.750 crore of State money on propaganda equivalent to the amount Gujarat spends on social welfare and nutrition in a year.

If you get off the highway and get into the dirt roads, the reality is far removed from the cardboard cut-outs. Many places have regressed, rather than progressed. In Madiya village, Bhavnagar district, Kavabhai Vegad was found dead in his field with a bottle of pesticide by his side on October 12, 2006. Instead of spraying his field with pesticide for the nth time, he swallowed a few gulps and ended his misery. He left his family the legacy of his sorrow. His wife, Ramuben, was left to pick up the pieces. The crop had failed in the last three years. We were heavily in debt. Every month moneylenders used to visit the house and demand their payments. What answer could he keep giving them? she asks. Now, their fields lie fallow. Ramuben and her sons barely manage to survive by working in fields in the neighbouring village or by loading trucks.

In Madiya, three farmers have committed suicide. But those who are living are in the same crisis, says Bachubhai Mer, a young farmer from the village. When the Kalubhar dam near by overflows, the water floods our fields. There is no drainage outlet for the water. Factories constructed near by have blocked its natural flow, so we have to suffer. Farmers here have no irrigation. They depend on the monsoon to cultivate cotton and jowar (sorghum). Around 500 farmers have committed suicide in Gujarat in the past five years, according to information obtained under the Right to Information Act by activist Bharat Jhala. The actual number is likely to be even higher than these official statistics since the police have not recorded many cases. Most of these suicides are in Saurashtra and northern Gujarat, where cash crops such as cotton, groundnut and jeera (cumin) are grown. In the last three years, our situation has worsened. The government has totally ignored farmers. Why should we go and vote? We will lose a days wages, says Bachubhai Mer.

Until recently, Gujarat was considered a prosperous cotton-growing belt that had not witnessed the kind of mass farmers suicides seen in States such as Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. But now, cash crop farmers here too are facing the brunt of inflation and unsustainable commercial cultivation. The price we get for our cotton has remained the same for more than five years, but the cost of everything else has risen rapidly. How are farmers supposed to survive? Every day, a new suicide takes place, but Modi says in his speeches that farmers in Gujarat travel in Maruti cars. They dont even have a decent pair of chappals, says Vinubhai Dudhat, a local leader of the Bharatiya Kisan Sabha, the farmers wing of the BJP.

Modi claims that he has made the Narmada waters reach Gujarat. But many villages in the Saurashtra region still do not have enough drinking water. The borewells have salty or bitter water. We walk 1 km to the river to get water. No Narmada water has reached here, said Bhikabhai Aher from Vadli village, Amreli district. A government audit for 2004-05, which reviewed the performance of Narmada drinking water supply to Kutch, Jamnagar and Rajkot districts, found that out of 1,324 villages surveyed, the water reached only to 415 villages, says Himanshu Upadhyaya, a researcher with Intercultural Resources, a research organisation based in New Delhi. The Narmada Tribunal had allocated 0.86 MAF [million acre-feet] water for drinking to drought-affected villages and 0.20 MAF for industrial use. The Sardar Sarovar Nigam in May 2006 increased its commitment to supply Narmada water for industry from 0.2 MAF to 1 MAF, leaving the municipal share at a paltry 0.06 MAF. Water is still a mirage for many in Gujarat.

The bumpy ride to Malugaon village in Vadodara district hints of what is in store. There are no roads here, only stones. As we drive along, there are electric poles with no cables. These poles were supposed to deliver 24-hour electricity to our village. But it was stopped by the forest department, says Ashok Rathwa, a youth leader in this Adivasi village. Even the ST [State Transport] buses on the main road have stopped, so now we have to rely on autorickshaws. But Modis website says that Gujarats excellent rural road connectivity of 98.53% is the best in the country and translates into fast track growth.

Not only are people denied basic amenities but they are now being thrown out of their ancestral homes. The forest department has seized the land of every single of the 70 families of Malugaon: the plan is to plant trees on the land. The department wants to evict Revjibhai Rathwa (80) from his home. Two years back, they built a fence in the middle of the village and declared that everything beyond it was theirs. That includes my house, says Rathwa.

He has filed a case against his eviction. When he defied the department, he and four others were jailed for 10 days. I have travelled across Gujarat to fight for our land back rallies, courts, offices. I have spent Rs.22,000 just on this. My feet are hurting, yet I go. Rathwa has also lost 3.5 acres of land. Since then, four members of his family have had to leave the village and migrate in search of work. How are 15 people supposed to survive on the 1.5 acres that I have left? he asks. This has happened in every village. In Mandalva the forest department has managed to evict them from their homes.

A large majority of Adivasi people in Gujarat migrate each year in search of work, according to a study by Lancy Lobo, director of the Centre for Culture and Development, Vadodara. They camp on roads or in tents near construction sites or the farms of landlords. That is the employment Vibrant Gujarat has to offer.

Malugaon gets electricity for two hours every night. And there is a medical clinic that has never functioned. If anyone in the village is ill, they have to be carried on a cot for three hours to the nearest town or highway. No one in Malugaon has heard of Modis Van Bandhu (forest friend) scheme which promises to provide facilities to tribal areas. It looks like a cruel joke. Instead of getting better amenities, they are losing their only assets.

In this Adivasi region in central Gujarat, for the first time in Gujarats history the Adivasis participated in the 2002 communal violence. But the violence seemed to be directed against the Muslim trader-moneylender class and incited by Hindu competitors. There are no signs that Adivasis here support saffron forces. There is no faith left in any political party. Gujarats 70 lakh Adivasis are in nine districts in the eastern hilly belt. They are 14 per cent of the population, same as the city of Ahmedabad, but political opinions are made in Ahmedabad, says Ganesh Devy, Adivasi rights activist. The disparities between the expressway Gujarat and the hilly Gujarat have multiplied.

The divide is not only economic. It is also communal. Here, Muslims live like second class citizens the poor the and rich alike. Cities are ghettoised along communal lines. In the elite areas, it is difficult for Muslims to find a house. Many try to mask their identity for fear of being targeted. Several Muslim businessmen have moved out. Others are planning their escape. The boycott has affected everyone, from judges to industrialists to vegetable vendors.

Around 21,800 of the 150,000 made homeless after the communal carnage of 2002 have not been able to return home. Some live in resettlement colonies in towns close to their villages. The city dwellers have been pushed to townships on the margins of the city or in the most uninhabitable places like dumping grounds. These are Gujarats internally displaced.

In Kalol village in Panchmahal district, eight families still live in a relief camp, an abandoned government dispensary. Ours was the only Muslim home in the village, so now we are scared to go back, says Jahida Diva from Kalindra village also in Panchmahal. The relief committee asked for Rs.9,500 to build a new house. We didnt have the money so we are still here in the garbage and the gutter. People defecate behind our house. We have put thorny bushes there but it doesnt deter them.

Revjibhai Rathwa, who is threatened with eviction by the forest department.-DIONNE BUNSHA

Revjibhai Rathwa, who

Some refugees are still living in tents in the Modasa relief camp in northern Gujarat. They do not even have electricity and use diyas (oil lamps) to find their way through this swampy area.

Refugees at a relief camp in Kalol. Thousands who lost their homes in the 2002 communal carnage are still unable to return home.-DIONNE BUNSHA

Refugees at a

No one has benefited from this industrialisation except the industrialists. They can get away with any mischief. They can dump chemicals as they please, exploit contract workers. Theres no one to stop them, says Mohammed Ali Darsot, from the GIDC Land Losers Association. For 27 years, he has been fighting land acquisitions and pollution here. In his village, Sanjali in Bharuch district, 300 farmers were made landless to make way for the Panoli Industrial Estate. No locals get jobs here. They only want contract workers from outside. Farmers here have become rickshaw drivers, dhobis, cycle mechanics or they rent out rooms to migrant workers. Even my son, who is an MBA student, was not given a two-month traineeship in the companies, so what hope do others have? he asks.Every night they release gases. Sometimes, people cant sleep. Our children are constantly ill. But the doctors cant do much. They say its because of the pollution and send them back home, says Darsot. The school is close to the factory. If you stand there, you are covered with blue chemical dust. These factories are Modis modern mandirs (temples).

The people of Gujarat are known to be hard-working. For the last few decades, Gujarat has been one of the most economically advanced States in India because of the economic advantages and resources it possesses. But disparities are growing. New malls come up every day, but infant deaths are also increasing. The highways are unable to bridge the gap between the Vibrant Gujarat and the vanishing Gujarat.

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