Interview: We have a pro-rich policy in Gujarat, says Sarabhai

Trust Mallika Sarabhai not to pull a punch while taking on the big and the mighty. The Padma Bhushan awardee, who is also a noted danseuse and cultural icon of Gujarat, has been leading a spirited battle to protect the liberal ethos of the state which she sees as under serious threat from the rapid growth of the Hindutva ideology over the last two decades. In an interview with Firstpost, she spells out what is wrong with Gujarat under Narendra Modi.

You highlighted the discrimination against women at the World Economic Forum for 2012 at Gurgaon and spoke about rampant negative gender stereotyping at all levels of society. What is the scene in Gujarat?

MS: In the Hindutva ideology women do not really figure. It’s a very macho, patriarchal version of Hinduism. If you see, women have not been addressed in any of the BJP governments. In Gujarat, in the 20 years of the BJP rule women’s safety has gone down dramatically. Because it is not considered important at all. Mr Modi’s two comments, one on malnutrition of women in Gujarat being an issue of fashion and his comment on Sunanda (Pushkar) shows his absolute disdain for women. I think it is very reflective of the attitude of the administration… The safety situation is horrific in Ahmedabad, Modi’s constituency. It was a very, very safe place when I was growing up. There’s a suppression of cases figuring women. Nobody cares.

Does the government have a policy towards women?

MS: Oh yes, there are lots of policies, but they remain on paper. Nutrition scenario has not improved. Sex ratio, which is very bad, has not changed significantly despite all these years of lip service to 'beti bachao'. Dropout rate among girls remain high due to lack of toilets in schools. Mamata scheme, Chiranjivi scheme (both aimed at reducing maternal and infant mortality rates) are victims of lackadaisical implementation.

Do you see any dramatic difference in Gujarat since Narendra Modi took over power?

MS: I see a difference already since the BJP came into power. It has become worse since 2002. We have a pro-rich policy

A file photo of Sarabhai campaigning in 2009. AP

on every front. If you look at the small and medium scale industries, for every two industries that start in Gujarat one shuts down. Nothing is ever done to help them. Pro-industry policies mean that fertile land is being given away to industries dirt cheap while the government could use non-fertile land and the land earmarked for industries. We don’t have a land shortage, unlike Kerala. There is a lot of land which is not fertile and irrigable. But it is always the fertile land that is given away.

If that is the case, why don’t we hear of farmers’ protests in Gujarat?

MS: Of course, there are protests. (MLA) Kanu Kalsaria led a big protest against the allocation of land to the Nirma Group. There are farmers’ protests and protests from fishermen against the government…(you won’t get to hear of these because) Media is very well managed here, at the national level too. He is the best brand manager in the country. All those big brand gurus in the corporate sector must learn from him. Only, the branding happens at a big cost to the public exchequer.

So how is he going to fare this time?

MS: It’s very difficult to predict Indian elections. Even exit polls go wrong. But one thing is sure, it’s not going to be a cakewalk for him this time. The government employees are against him, the farmers are against him, the fisherfolk are against him, the Congress is much better prepared and Keshubhai party’s there. There are many more people against him in 2012 than there were in 2002 and 2007. There are many more diverse parties fighting to defeat Modi this time.

He has problems with the Sangh Parivar. Is it going to affect his chances this time?

MS: Yes, he has. But he is the master of the last minute sleight of the hand, isn’t he? Things could change at the last minute.

You were critical of the Sadbhavna Yatra taken out by Modi…

MS: I am critical of everything Modi does. Everything he does with an agenda and nothing is done for the people…This yatra was obviously to change his image and convey to the outside world that he loved minorities, he loved Muslims. He wore the Kutch cap, the Kathiawadi cap and all kinds of caps during his yatra, did he wear that skull cap offered to him? Did he apologise to the Muslims and say sorry once?

What about a section of Muslims supporting him?

MS: You must remember that the Muslims are not a homogenous people. There are so many divisions among them. Bhoras and Khojas are rich people. They don’t care for their poor. They would obviously like to go for Modi. And about the support, people can be brought, people can be threatened. Muslims are terrified. They would remain silent or make a show of support to buy peace. They are poor people and they are in no position to fight cases foisted by the government on them. I should know since I have so many against me lodged by this government. I am still fighting them.