Washington: The larger India shining story may have got tarnished over the past two years because of self-inflicted wounds, but stories of individual states racing ahead to the goal post are a good substitute.
Chief ministers of what I might call “chaalu” states — chaalu as in those who are already running away to success — are a breath of fresh air. They don’t have to explain why things don’t work because their success speaks for itself. Madhya Pradesh has flowered from a BIMARU to a chaalu state in less than a decade and credit must go to Shivraj Singh Chouhan, reportedly the new “development mascot” for the BJP.
Chouhan has achieved 11 percent growth rate for Madhya Pradesh but what’s really impressive is the agricultural growth at 18.9 percent. He has shoved Haryana aside to get second place in wheat production and plans to displace Punjab. He is already number one in pulses and soyabean production. He is furiously building roads, diverting water for irrigation, getting into solar and wind energy. He claims to have created the only real “single window” for investment and personally meets investors every Monday. Four days of the week he travels in the state checking on delivery of promises. His e-governance initiatives are ahead even of many western countries. The bureaucrats who don’t deliver get fined. Incrementally as days go by.
It is quite a resume. And I am not even a BJP sympathiser.
Chouhan comes without the baggage of Narendra Modi, the other BJP “star” who scares both his party and the larger population but is equally driven to achieve. It could be argued that his economic and administrative achievements are greater because they are more inclusive. He says he has communal harmony and many Muslims have benefited from his schemes. The dacoits are either killed or in jail. A small pocket of Naxals is “taken care of.”
His pitch is non-partisan — at least outside India — and without rancour against the central government. His enthusiasm to focus on his state and his state alone minus a detour to the bigger but messier national arena is sound politics.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess I have soft spot for Madhya Pradesh, a hidden gem of incredible natural beauty. It’s my most favourite state ever since I went as a cub reporter to cover the Bhopal gas leak and its aftermath and took side trips to take a peak at the Khajuraho temples, the Panna waterfalls nearby. Growing up in Delhi I had never imagined beauty or greenery on that scale. The imprint remains. It was doubly delightful to hear that the beautiful state is also prospering. But please don’t make a crazy tourist hub and cover it in plastic bags.
Listening to Chouhan vigorously pitch Madhya Pradesh as THE destination for foreign investment was also restorative after months of somnolent efforts by various officials and central ministers trying to stem the hemorrhaging credence from the India rising story. Lately it has only been about lower growth rates, blackouts, underachievers, the traveling circus of alliances, Mamata’s tantrums, Rahul’s innocence of politics, the downgrading by rating agencies, serial corruption scandals and The Economist’s glib judgments. It has come by the bucketful.
It seems that India, for all practical purposes, will rise and shine in patches in the near term with ambitious and focused chief ministers whipping their states into shape. In the United States of India, those who can play both politics and economics have a future. Those who play only politics will recess further. Mamata please make friends with Shivraj.
Chouhan’s success was remarkable enough that the World Bank invited him to make a presentation so that some of his ideas could be replicated in Africa, especially his many schemes for women’s empowerment. His government has a series of financial rewards for families who put their daughters through school and college. The birth of a daughter itself ensures Rs 30,000 in government certificates.
The World Bank is a late comer to South-South cooperation but is increasingly convinced that the South has better answers for problems of the South and not those highly paid western contractors with a dubious track record. Chouhan also discussed an array of ambitious projects totaling $7.8 billion for Madhya Pradesh with Bank officials and came away with assurances of funding, mainly because the state government will come up with a bulk of the money. He wants the extra push that external financing can provide.
Unfortunately his appearance at the CII-US India Business Council was not as well attended as it should have been. Perhaps it was the timing — elections are on the American mind and wallets. Perhaps, the business class is temporarily stunned by the chaotic picture in New Delhi. It will take a few successes to whip up the enthusiasm again.
But that shouldn’t stop successful chief ministers from making the pitch. Chouhan’s presentation was professional starting with a slick and short film about Madhya Pradesh as an investment haven with top Indian industrialists from Ambanis to Birlas giving testimonials. He has facts on his fingertips, figures roll off his tongue and the passion came through. If you miss something, just plug in the pen drive his delegation hands out.
I just hope that in the rush to extract minerals from the earth and the race to displace Punjab and Gujarat on tables of high growth, Chouhan has a good regulatory structure and sound environmental policies in place. We want no Silent Spring in Madhya Pradesh.
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