Development Outcomes And Politics in Gujarat: Atul Sood

Guest Post by ATUL SOOD

Development is back in focus after the endless noise about cow protection, nationalism, Hindu-Muslim, janeus, Shiv Bhakti, Gorakhpur governance, casteism, love jihad, enemy nation and the rest. Why this talk about development now? Perhaps the dissent and protests on the ground by various sections in Gujarat in the last few years have compelled even the diehards to acknowledge (Mr. Amit Shah recently said ‘It is not my point that the issues raised in those agitations are not an issue’), that something is deeply problematic about the “Gujarat Model of Development”. The ASHA workers have taken to the streets demanding a living wage, regularized working hours and social security; dalits are no longer silent about the violence, indignity and intimidation heaped upon them; displaced families from Sardar Sarovar Dams have occupied streets seeking rehabilitation; farmers are demanding reprieve from a crisis to which they have had no hand in creating; tribals and evicted farmers are protesting against showpiece infrastructure projects which have meant their displacement and destruction of human habitations; and the youth from cultivating castes are seeking guarantee for jobs.  The list is continuing.  

These protests and related social movements have thrown up a large number of new political formations and youth leadership. We not only have the new faces of young leaders in Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch, Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti, ST, SC, OBC Ekta Manch, but also have many new political formations in the fray like All India Hindustan Congress Party, Gujarat Jan Chetna Party, Sardar Vallabbhai Patel Party, Vyavastha Parivartan Party, in response to the deep disappointment of Gujarati electorate and offering political alternatives that articulate their real needs. These new formations and leadership are surely forcing the mainstream political formations to acknowledge failures, rethink and search for solutions.

It is well known that Gujarat has been a well performing state in terms of GDP growth, contribution to growth by various sectors, and per capita GDP. It has been among the top three states in the growth of per capita income in the last three decades. Gujarat’s economic success is not recent, it is historically located in many factors including history, people’s entrepreneurial skills, farmers and their strong agrarian base, artisans and their global recognition and the legacy of social reform and cooperative movement. 2001 is hardly the cut off period in growth parameters.

Ironically, the ‘Gujarat model of development’ does not claim legacy of its past development experience. The success is claimed on what happened since 2001, and supposedly happening in India since 2014.  What is the essence of this so-called Gujarat Model? At one level its essence lies in its economic dynamics and at another level in how popular will around it has been constructed. 

There is enough evidence to suggest that this model is based on an industrial development biased in favour of the developed regions and a massive growth of capital-intensive industries in the state. The model has extremely weak backward and forward linkages between different tiers of industry and it has produced low employment elasticity of output (0.16 in the last three decades and more) along with lowest share of wages in Gross Value Added (0.20 during the decade of 2000) in the country with one third of workers employed as casual labour, bereft of any social protection.   

Developments of ports, roads, rail and power via the unqualified faith in the private investor has reinforced speculation in land.  In the drive for improving access for SEZ through rail and road, SIRs, human habitations have been neglected.  Agriculture sector has been corporatized and access to land has changed in favour of large owners as reflected in more than average leasing out or selling of land in the state by the smallest land owning classes (average size of holding by farmers above 20 hectares has increased by around 8 hectares between mid-1990s to mid-2000). Overtime, access to land of the scheduled castes and tribes has worsened in the state (from 18.3 percent to 15.7 percent for SC and from marginally for ST households) and it is lower than the national average.  Thus the Gujarat model is essentially meant to benefit big business, embedded in which is increasing social and economic inequalities, vulnerable, dirty, demeaning employment, privatization of education and health, and, delivery of meagre public services through layers of sub-contracting.

As a result of this development trajectory in Gujarat, the rate of urban and rural poverty reduction (18 and 22 percent) in the last two decades has been far below any comparable fast growing states, and average daily wage of agricultural labour and rural non-farm worker is below national average as per 2015 labour bureau data. Wage data from labour bureau for the year 2015 suggests that average daily wage of agricultural labour is Rs. 169 in Gujarat compared to the national average of Rs. 230. For the rural non-farm sector wages in Gujarat are Rs. 191 compared to Rs. 241 for All India. Education and health are beyond the reach of ordinary people – NFHS 2015-16 shows 38.5 percent children stunted in the state and Gujarat ranks 11 out of 15 major states of India. In addition, 26.4 percent children are wasted and the state occupies the lowest rank among major states in India. Gujarat is among the five worst states in India on the Hunger Index, and ranks 11th in Human Development Index, it slipped from rank 9 to 13 between 2008 and 2012 in health index and from 7th in 1996 to 10th in 2012 in composite education index. Percentage of women who are anaemic has also increased from 46.3 to 62.6 percent between 1999 and 2016. As per the 2014 NSSO Health in India report, doctors’ fee is the highest in the expenditure distribution for non-hospitalized treatment in the state.  

Why are we not talking about these facts? What explains the silence around these facts amidst the cacophonic discourse of the success of Gujarat model?   The need to impose Section 144 every time the Vibrant Gujarat Submit is organized symbolizes one pillar of ‘managing’ support for the model. The cultural narrative is the other pillar that plays a big role in dealing with such decisive economic divides. Hindutva, regional asmita, majoritarian cultural discourse are repeatedly invoked to deal with the crisis of outcomes that the so called Gujarat model delivers.  The cultural narrative helps to implement the economic agenda without the opposition it would face for its disconnect from the real needs of ordinary people. This jugalbandi between the economic and the cultural discourse is the only way things could have moved forward in Gujarat. 

In the mainstream discourse the non-fulfillment of people’s needs and the ensuing dissent is understood as ‘governance failure’. This suggests that all is well with development processes and priorities, it is just the implementation that is poor, which a strong, determined leader, with claim to clean image, could ensure. The majoritarian assertions are also dismissed as ‘fringe’ or temporary aberrations that will be overcome with time. The interconnections between the economic and the cultural narrative are missed.

But are the unfulfilled basic needs and dissatisfaction with how the gains are distributed attributable to simple governance failure? Is it not a result of the failure of the development and political paradigm itself?  It is incumbent upon the political opposition to highlight not only the governance failure but also the failure of the model itself, which has resulted in unemployment, dirty jobs, agrarian crisis, displacement, expensive healthcare, unaffordable private education and ruined livelihoods.  It is also incumbent upon them to demonstrate the link between these poor development outcomes and the accompanied coercion, silencing and political authoritarian instinct, along with the role of regional asmita and religion and caste based mobilizations.  All of which contributes decisively to claiming the success of this paradigm.  

It is the responsibility of the political opposition to demonstrate these links and convert the disillusionment in to a positive vote.  If it fails, the divisive politics will only get deepened.

Atul Sood is Professor, Centre for the Study of Regional Development,  
Jawaharlal Nehru University

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