It's intriguing that the worshippers of growth and GDP numbers would run Nitish Kumar down with such vehemence. Here’s a chief minister who has delivered close to 12 percent growth for his state for over five years—better than most other Indian states—and scripted a turnaround story that is brilliant by most standards. Still, nobody would applaud him. Why is that? Is it because he is not a certain Narendra Modi?
It’s curious that every model of development should be compared with the Gujarat model. And what pray is this Gujarat model of development? Diehard fans of the Gujarat chief minister would have us believe that it is the magic recipe behind the economic success achieved in the state in the last ten years with Modi at the helm and, of course, they would like us to forget that the state was among the most industrialised even before he arrived on the scene and that it registered high growth rate in the decades before him.
They would discount the fact that Gujaratis were always full of entrepreneurial energy and the governments had had no choice but to respond to that and that urbanisation started in the state close to half a century ago, thanks to natural calamities. The fact with the Gujarat growth story which the Modi fanclub would like the country to ignore is it did not start with Modi. However, the point here is not to take anything away from his achievements as chief minister; it's to underline that the so-called Gujarat model existed before him and it has been shaped by circumstances unique to the state.
Let's get it right. There’s no such thing as the perfect economic model, just like there’s no such thing as the perfect political theory or perfect formula of governance. If there was one, economies around the world won’t be in such a sorry state. Every state and every country is the product of a unique set of socio-economic and historical circumstances and each has to chart out its own success path and chose its own pace. What works in Gujarat may not work elsewhere in India.
The one-size-fits all formula is simply foolish. The World Bank and the IMF have been trying that for decades with economies across the world with mostly disastrous results. Their standard prescription of economic liberalisation, privatisation, minimal government intervention in economy and public spend cuts have hardly helped nations. Successful economies have found their own mix and match recipe for success. Countries driven by the communist ideology have collapsed and the capitalist ones have had to make major compromises with socialist ideas. Thus to stress that there can be only one design or model for economic growth is misplaced.
Now, back to Bihar and Nitish Kumar. Why cannot there be a Bihar model of development or say, a Chhattisgarh model of development? When Nitish Kumar emphasises that his model is inclusive, it must be understood in its entirety, not just on the basis of its narrow economic connotation or fancy year-on-year numbers. Inclusion is an important idea and involves making all sections of the society participants in and beneficiaries of the process of development. It also means a process of governance that stresses as much on economic growth as on social justice and welfare.
Nitish has ensured law and order in the lawless state with fast-track courts, while in Gujarat the Supreme Court has to intervene to get the 2002 riots cases reopened. High profile cases have to be shifted to courts out of Gujarat routinely—a clear case of no confidence in the government—while high profile criminals are cooling their heels in jails in Nitish’s Bihar. Right to Delivery of Services Act has made Bihar a less corrupt and more efficient state. Fifty percent of members in the Panchayati Raj institutions are women. And being a Muslims is still not a problem in the state. The Bihar story is a work in progress, but it is refreshing in the sense that takes into account everyone in the society. This is not entirely true of Gujarat. Just check its ranking in the Human Development Index.
The advocates of the Gujarat model tend to forget that progress is not only about bland numbers indicating economic growth and governance is not about facilitating business investment, it is about ensuring social justice and equality too. But if we reduce everything to numbers, Nitish deserves some credit here too.