So much has been written about BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate that I am not sure more can be written about him. Narendra Modi is his own megaphone. There is little that he wants made known that is not out there hanging in the open. No other living Indian political personality this side of the century has been as much in the public gaze for as long.
But Modi can be looked at differently, and that is what I have tried in my book Modi: Leadership, Governance and Performance, published by OrientPaperbacks. It is a journalistic attempt at seeing things as they are from the viewpoint of a liberal who believes in free markets, individual liberties and the rule of law. Unlike the author and free-marketer Gurcharan Das, who says it is 'wrong and elitist' to privilege secularism above the demographic dividend (high economic growth that will give our youth a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get on in life), I believe that chauvinism of any kind (nationalistic or religious) spells menace.
India First follows from Individual First (within Constitutional limits) and not the other way round. When Leftists discredit Modi's economic management of Gujarat, I see them getting at liberalisation (or neo-liberalism, as they call it) by suggesting it is heartless, pro-big business and the handmaiden of muscular Hindu nationalism. Modi's Gujarat is pro-big business certainly, but there are about 200 industrial estates where small businesses flourish. The state has a low unemployment rate. And the state does invest in education: in the past decade the number of schools has doubled to 34,000; most of these are government schools unlike in Kerala, where sixty percent are private.
For Modi, the talk of development is a shield. It is his best advertising and defence. It has perhaps done more to burnish his image and make him acceptable, than it has flattered the fortunes of the state. Since 2000-01 (he was named Chief Minister in October 2001), Gujarat has grown annually at 8.85 percent. But so has Haryana, which has a higher per capita income, without as much fuss. Maharashtra - more prosperous and with double the population - has grown annually at a tad higher than eight percent. Tamil Nadu's eight percent growth is matched by its efficient delivery of welfare benefits like subsidised grain, and excellent public healthcare.
Uttarkhand has done very well (11.68 percent growth) but its population is a sixth of Gujarat's. Bihar's economic pizza is a slice actually compared to Gujarat's which is four times as big. Bihar's eight percent growth must be seen in that context.
There is a Gujarat model of development with its reliance on private enterprise. Industrial promotion has been a leitmotif of successive Gujarat administrations regardless of personality or party. While earlier it was done by officials, Modi now leads the investment effort loudly, and visibly, from the front. So while there is no Modi model of development, there is a Modi way of executing it.
If political stability matters in a state known for revolving door chief ministers, if there is value in social peace (despite uneasy relations between the principal religious communities), if certainty of policies and quickness of decision-making have an appeal to investors, credit must be given to Modi for Gujarat's near nine percent growth, without terming it exceptional.
But when one examines the quality of that growth Modi's hand no longer remains hidden. Eight percent agricultural growth in a semi-arid state is commendable, especially because it has been achieved despite much of the Narmada water flowing into the sea. The rationing of power to farm pumps, the provision of round-the-clock electricity to rural homes, revival of the agricultural extension system, paving of rural roads, a vigorous check dam movement, liberty to farmers to sell to organised retailers and food processors, and the propagation of water saving technologies like sprinkler irrigation have helped. So has luck: a series of good monsoons and commercial approval of genetically-modified Bt cotton by the central government in 2002. High agricultural growth makes Gujarat's development pro-poor.
Modi is pro- business, not necessarily pro-markets. He is a loud liberaliser but measured in practice. Unlike Vajpayee government's which privatised state enterprises, Modi believes in turning them around. The return on investment in public enterprises has doubled under this tenure to seven percent, according to state audit reports. While Modi has hived off the state's electricity utilities he has not privatised them for fear they will not care for non-creamy customers.
Modi is perhaps the only ruling leader with a philosophy of governance. He has a few good ideas about breaking silo thinking, making government cohesive and keeping the administration in touch with people. Modi's government is relatively clean, but not corruption-free. Little happens in Gujarat without palm grease. Bootlegging is a big source of black money. E-governance has checked petty corruption but not eliminated it. The size of bribes has perhaps shrunk.
Industrial favourites provide campaign finance and ensure that the 'electoral tax' is not spread across the economy. They are obliged with grants of wasteland, of which Gujarat has the largest swathe after Rajasthan, and through policies that optically do not smack of cronyism. They do not have the power to unmake Modi's government. It is obvious that corporates have helped the BJP splurge for the Lok Sabha elections. Will this strengthen this strengthen their hold on the next government at the centre to the detriment of the common man?
Modi is an autocrat; nothing exceptional. Most Chief Ministers are, if they have a choice. But the Modi administration also lacks in the justice department. Its record of successfully prosecuting 2002 riot criminals is very poor. The Muslim community in Gujarat is alienated. Modi did little to reach out to it before he developed national ambitions. During the Lok Sabha elections he has not made any communal pitch, through there have been a few dog whistles that are not overtly communal but within the aural range of the communally-inclined. Will Modi's love of power chip away at beliefs long-ingrained?
(Vivian Fernandes has been with the TV18 group for two decades, reporting and commenting on economic policy. Based on his journalistic acquaintance with Gujarat since 2008, he has authored a book, Modi: Leadership, Governance and Performance, published by Orient Paperbacks)
Updated Date: Apr 11, 2014 07:27:19 IST