By Shuddhabrata Sengupta
I’ve been thinking a lot about magic lately. The kind of magic that gets pulled at fairgrounds and birthday parties, or on stage, where the impossible is made to appear possible, where material objects dematerialize and specters appear, tantalizing us into suspending our disbelief. Some magicians, including those I would like to think of as friends, do what they can with consummate skill, so that we attain a state of wonder while they effect transformations using ordinary things for extraordinary purposes. They make us inhabit parallel universes on a table top. There is a kind of poetry and grace in that kind of magic. That is the kind of magic that makes men out of god-men, and re-affirms even a non-patriot’s faith in the ‘waters of India’.
There is another kind of magic, a bag of tricks that relies on the cheapening of our impulses, on our addictions to false premises, on our giving in to our basest instincts. And because sometimes old cliches are useful, we could call this kind black magic. The greatest practitioner of this art, at this moment, seems to me to be none other than the man who is setting himself up as the caudillo of the future, the chief minister of Gujarat, our prime-minister in waiting, Narendrabhai Damodardas Modi. We,a stunned would be electorate, are the rabbit he is aiming to pull out of his hat.
Magic works on simple principles, sleight of hand and sleight of mind, mainly to do with the magician doing the obvious under your nose, while you are distracted by his banter. Then, your expectations are played along, your fears, anxieties and desires are manipulated so that you see what the magician wants you to see, cleverly disguising what you overlooked while he did his thing.
One of the cleverest magic tricks is called Pepper’s Ghost – a nineteenth century technique for ‘materializing’ specters and apparitions on stage. Crucially, it requires the presence of chamber hidden in darkness, where an illusion can be staged and then reflected on to a revealed chamber – the stage – adjoining it through cleverly angled twin mirrors. Sometimes, this effect is aided by generous amounts of smoke – thereby giving us the expression – ‘smoke and mirrors’ -as shorthand for any elaborate con job.
What I am suggesting is simply this, NaMo Mamu, together with his extensive PR machinery, of which Madhu Mausi is now an important adjunct, is conducting a large scale Pepper’s Ghost-style Psy-Ops on the Indian electorate. I like to thinks of this as the Ghost of Uncle Pepper (If Madhu Mausi and NaMo Mamu, why not Uncle Pepper?)
This is not just a matter of NaMo being spectrally present and distributed (as he likes to be, through holographic projection in many places at once) but also a matter of the deliberate sleights of hand that produce the ‘lists’ of awards, distinctions and glowing testimonies to his regime.
What it conceals is a state that under-performs on many social indicators. (This has been highlighted in Kafila earlier, so I will not detail it here) What it concerns is the fact that the Modi government spends less than Goa or Karnataks on primary education, and administers some of the lowest minimum wages for agricultural and informal labour. All this while it claims to be generating huge amounts of revenue, through increased investment. If the investment is indeed as large as the Gujarat government claims it is, then the fact that the indicators of inequality are stable or rising means that in Gujarat, increased investment has not lead to a decrease in social inequalities. Is this the model of governance that Madhu Mausi wants for the rest of the country? That the rich grow richer, at the expense of everyone else?
The truth is, NaMo at the helm of the NDA is unlikely to come close to winning an absolute majority in the elections that will be held next year. If anything the mandate will be fractured giving neither the malgoverning UPA, nor the ambitious NDA, nor anyone else anything close to a shot at power by themselves. It is then that the jockeying for the minor players and parties will begin. A large faction of Corporate India, with its suitcases full of cash, emboldened by the kind of crony capitalism (the Adani-Ambani model of Public Private Partnership) that Modi presides over in Gujarat, will then make its bid. And if Namo Mamu wins, it will be because he, will have the backers with the fatter suitcase.
In that event, we will need many justifications to rationalize the sleight of hand that will bring NaMo into power. The Pepper’s Ghost spectacle that we are witnessing today, which seek to distract our attention from the darkness in Gujarat and direct it towards the bright lights that produce NaMo’s mirrored spectre is part of that game. Madhu Mausi, the magician’s faithful aide, is playing it, to the best of her ability.
Madhu Kishwar re-iterated her case for Narendra Modi and the ‘Gujarat Model of Development’ in a lengthy rejoinder to Zahir Janmohammed, which was published in Kafila (along with a response to the rejoinder by Janmohammed) last month.
In that text, Madhu Mausi (I am calling her Mausi, because she has tweeted about being more comfortable these days with people who, following ‘Bharatiya’ tradition, apply familial suffixes to women’s names, as a mark of their respect, rather than to those she considers to be ‘inauthentic’, deracinated feminists) has offered many reasons for why she thinks that Muslims in Gujarat have now decided to root for NaMo Mamu (if Madhu is Mausi, then, in the spirit of bhaichara, NaMo – Narendra Modi – must be Mamu, must he not? ). Part of her argument rests on what she did or did not see and hear in her walks and conversations in Ahmedabad, particularly in the Muslim neighborhood of Juhapura.
Kafila has carried responses to Madhu Mausi’s defense of NaMo Mamu by Aditya Nigam and Zahir Janmohammed and Dilip D’Souza.
My purpose is not to repeat the points that have been made in these other contributions, which have all been cogently argued. I intend to focus on the fact that in her defense of NaMo Mamu and the Gujarat Model of Development in Kafila, Madhu Mausi (other than her cheerful anecdotes about young women and men having cold drinks at night on the streets of Ahmedabad, and her observations born out of her ‘unguided’ tour of Juhapura) has basically one set of facts on offer. These are a long list of 21 awards, honors and distinctions that Gujarat has been lauded with in the past few years. I became curious about this long list of awards and laurels, and decided to try and find out what makes them so persuasive as evidence for the distinctions that Madhu Mausi claims for Gujarat.
United Nations Sasakawa Award in 2003 for outstanding work in the field of disaster management and risk reduction.
Best Investment Environment and Most Economic Freedom Award by India Today in 2005.
Best Bio State Award, 2007.
Rajiv Gandhi Wildlife Conservation Award 2006, by Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India.
E-governance award for the e-dhara project (aimed at computerization of land records).
CAPAM Gold Award from Commonwealth Associations for Innovation in Governance.
Asian Innovation Award in 2006 at Singapore from Wall Street Journal and the Financial Express for Chiranjeevi Yojana (initiative for reducing maternal and infant mortality rate)
India Tech Excellence Award in 2009 by India Tech Foundation for Power sector reforms and initiatives.
Nirmal Gram Award in 2010 to a village in Rajkot district in Gujarat by Government of India for sanitation facilities.
ELITEX 2007- Best E-government State Award from Government of India
Gujarat tops among 35 states of the country in Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan
Gujarat ranks 1st in the country in “Implementation of the 20 Point Programme” in 2010.
UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Award in 2005 for reconstruction of a Gurudwara damaged during the earthquake.
Modi was voted No. 1 Chief Minister by the people, thrice consecutively in five years in the India Today-ORG MARG Survey (a unique recognition ever achieved by any CM in the country)
Gujarat ranks No. 1 in The Economic Freedom Index instituted by Rajiv Gandhi Foundation in 2005. However, the then Director, Bibek Debroy was forced to resign from his post because the Congress High Command got enraged at an institution presided over by the Nehru Dynasty finding anything praiseworthy in Modi’s Gujarat.
United Nation Public Service Award in 2010 for its role in transforming the delivery of public services and attention to grievances by application of technology.
Innovation for India Award in 2010 in the public services category for “Jyotigram Yojana” for power and irrigation reform. The award was instituted by the Marico Innovation Foundation.
Gujarat Power Corporation Ltd bagged an award in the category of “Best Renewable Energy Project in India and the World for 2012” for its 214 MW solar park, the largest solar farm in Asia.
Award in “Top Investment and Infrastructure Excellent State in Energy and Power” category for 5 consecutive times since 2008 when the category was first introduced.
Scope Award by Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises, Government of India 2008
National Award for Excellence in Cost Management in 2007 by the Institute of Cost and Works Accountants of India.
National Award to Power Utilities of Gujarat in 2011 by Ministry of Power, Government of India.
Award for Excellence in 2007 by Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India.
This list of 21 honors is long and impressive. Until one begins looking at them closely. And then you realize that they are the kind of awards that state government bodies get from Central Government ministries and bodies and various national and international foundations and organizations. I looked at eight of these twenty one awards and realized the following.
The United Nations Sasakawa Award for Disaster Management and Preparedness which was won by the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority in 2003 (the GSDMA was set up by Modi’s bete-noire Keshubhai Patel during his tenure as Gujarat CM in the wake of the Bhuj earthquake) was also won, for instance, by the Bhubaneshwar Municipal Corporation in 2011. And yet, no one is plugging Naveen Patnaik for the post of prime minister.
The Nirmal Gram Puraskar (awarded to villages and settlements which eradicate open defecation by the Ministry of Sanitation of the Government of India) was awarded not as Madhu Mausi says to a village in Rajkot district in Gujarat, but to 2808 village panchayats all over india in 2010. Of these Gujarat accounted for 189, while Maharashtra accounted for 694, Madhya Pradesh accounted for 344, Tamil Nadu accounted for 237. If one looks at a break up of Nirmal Gram Puraskars across states from 2005 – 2011, then we get 9523 NGP awards for villages in Maharashtra, 2385 awards for villages in Tamil Nadu and 2281 awards for villages in Gujarat. As of 2011, Sikkim became the first state to be free of open defecation. Himachal Pradesh and Kerala are set to follow suit in 2012-13. No one is talking about the chief ministers of Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Maharashtra or Tamil Nadu as potential prime ministerial candidates.
Madhu Mausi tells us that Gujarat ranks No. 1 in the The Economic Freedom Index instituted by the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation. This index is a measure of a state government’s willingness to go down the road of neo-liberal economic policies. It is not, and cannot be considered to be an index of choice or liberty for the general population, rather, it is often a measure of how clearly allied the policies of a state are to big corporations. However, even in this instance, the distinction is not Gujarat’s alone. Tamil Nadu, for instance has been ranked as No.1, not once, but twice in the same time period, in the same index, by the same organization. And yet, Madhu Mausi thinks that it is the chief minister of Gujarat and not of Tamil Nadu who should merit our attention.
The United Nations Public Service Award has been awarded not just to the Government of Gujarat, but also to the Government of Kerala and Delhi on different occasions in recent years. But Oommen Chandy or Shiela Dikshit do not quite cut it for Madhu Mausi in the same way as NaMo Mamu does.
The Innovation for India award instituted by the Marico Foundation was given to the Government of Gujarat for its Jyoti Gram Yojana, but it had already been given earlier to the Government of Kerala for its Kudumbashree Programme, begun while the LDF under E.K. Nayanar was in power in Kerala.
Madhu Mausi tells us that Gujarat Power Corporation Ltd bagged an award in the category of “Best Renewable Energy Project in India and the World for 2012” for its 214 MW solar park, the largest solar farm in Asia. What she does not tell us is who gave the award, and perhaps why. The award is actually the ENERTIA award, given by ENERTIA a trade journal in the power sector. The journal and the award are both backed by Patel Engineering Ltd. a Mumbai based Engineering firm. In 2007-08, Patel Engineering acquired 96% stakes in Patel Energy, which then entered into an MOU with the Gujarat Power Corporation, Government of Gujarat for establishing a 1,200 MW imported coal-power based power project in Ghogha, Bhavnagar. The ENERTIA award looks more like a quid-pro-quo, by way of recognition for services rendered (apparently) in renewable energy in exchange of a generous contract in fossil fuel based non-renewable energy.
Madhu Mausi informs us that the Government of Gujarat won an Award of Excellence presented by the Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India. That is true, so did many other state governments and bodies over the years. For instance, the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation won it in one year. But no one now thinks of the now disgraced Yedurappa, or any other recent Karnataka Chief Minister as a potential Prime Ministerial Candidate.
I have taken just eight of the 21 ‘honors’ that Madhu Mausi lists, to demonstrate how hollow her claims are, and the information that I have found on them is readily available in the Public Domain, barely a few google-clicks away. If they are so inclined, insomniac Kafilareaders can go through the remaining 13 honors to see what they are worth. Some may want to go a step further and Google some more and find out that every state wins many such awards every year. Perhaps that would give us a better indication of the distance that remains between illusion and reality when it comes to Madhu Mausi, Namo Mamu and Gujarat.