Is the development in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat all virtual?

By MV Rajeev Gowda

Congress spokesman and IIM professor MV Rajeev Gowda makes light of Modi’s claim to fame

The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, has now added a new dimension to his public relations blitzkrieg. He has finally participated in a series of TV interviews. Since each of these has turned out to be a soft ball, love fest, it is up to other commentators to examine Modi’s statements in the spirit of asatoma sadgamaya.

Modi throws out grand ideas which sound so nice, we may forget to examine whether he has practiced what he now preaches. He talks loftily that the Prime Minister and state Chief Ministers must work together as “Team India.” But as Chief Minister of Gujarat, he has single-handedly obstructed the Goods and Services Tax on flimsy grounds thereby preventing India from becoming one common market. That alone would have boosted GDP substantially. His explanation: we can’t roll out GST without a proper IT support infrastructure. That’s hardly the challenge for an IT-savvy country like ours. The real hurdle is political consensus, which Modi has thwarted.

Similarly, he, along with other BJP Chief Ministers, opposed the establishment of the National Counter Terrorism Centre arguing that law and order is a state subject. Where was the concept of Team India then? Does opposing vital national security infrastructure count as the “India First” he talks about?

Modi talks loftily of his commitment to decentralisation. This is audacious, coming from a man who has centralised political decision making and reduced his cabinet and the state legislature to toothless entities.  This is ironic, coming from a man who has turned his political party into a one man show. Have we ever seen a Team Gujarat? No! All we have seen there is a captain and a hatchet man, Amit Shah.

Modi argues that even after 65 years of independence, India has not been able to provide access to safe drinking water to all.  What has Gujarat done on this front?  Women in rural areas of Gujarat still travel long distances, sometimes two to three kilometers every day for water.  When it comes to safe drinking water accessibility, Gujarat’s ranking has dropped from 14th in the 2001 census to 15th in 2011. In terms of the availability of tap water, Gujarat ranks 15th in the case of rural households and 9th for urban, as per the 2011 Census.

Modi casually asserts that Gujarat has achieved 100% enrolment of children in school. Because of the way gross enrolment is calculated, for many states it is actually more than 100%! The appropriate measure to examine is net enrolment. Here, Gujarat, at 83.99% is lower than the national average of 90.78%. Overall, on the Educational Development Index, after a dozen years of Modi, Gujarat ranks 18 out of 35 states and union territories. It appears that Modi’s understanding of Gujarat’s performance on education is akin to his earlier statement that China spent 20% of its budget on education. Time to go back to school?

On the economic front, we are treated to stories of Gujarat Shining. But Modi’s management expertise can be assessed through the case of the Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation. India’s Comptroller and Auditor General pointed out that there were irregularities to the tune of Rs. 16,707 crores in this PSU. Money leaked as if from an oil gusher, as it embarked on a variety of misadventures in the Krishna Godavari basin. Another example of its brilliant economics: GSPC bought natural gas from the open market and sold it to the Adanis at lower than the purchase price. The CAG estimated that Adani Energy received undue benefit of Rs 70.54 crore in the process. (That is small change for Adani compared to how much he has obtained through land giveaways for his Mundhra port).

Modinomics shines through in the case of the Nano plant. He gave the Tatas a soft loan of Rs.9,570 crore at 0.1% interest against their investment of Rs.2,900 crore. This loan is to be paid back on a monthly basis after 20 years. The business-savvy Gujarati must marvel at this kind of deal and what it will eventually cost the people of Gujarat.

Similarly, the much-trumpeted Modi-festo of the BJP demonstrates a singular lack of understanding of economics and incentives. It promises a support price to farmers of 50% above their cost of production. Any formula that offers cost-plus is a clear invitation to increase costs. When India’s inflation challenge substantially comes from the cost of food, this promise guarantees runaway inflation!

Finally, Modi has visibly spent the highest ever amounts on advertising and political rallies in any Indian election campaign. This not only demonstrates his desperation to gain power, it raises questions about where the funds have come from. Who all have invested in Modi and what returns will they expect? What will be the cost to India? These are the questions every Indian must reflect upon.

MV Rajeev Gowda is an All India Congress Committee Media Panelist.

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