This was an article I had written in January 2014 (the title was the same minus “before he Became PM”), when the national elections that year were yet to take place. It was published on an online portal, where it had remained published until a few weeks back. Very strangely, I found it removed recently, though it was an old article. Some Modi-‘bhakt’ in the editorial team of that portal may have found it too hot to handle, but here it is, on Khurpi. The piece is written as of January 2014 when the UPA was in power; so, do keep that in mind while reading it.
After drawing a lot of flak from very many public intellectuals and opposition parties for not clarifying what Modi stands for in concrete terms (though the Congress has been no better and the AAP has kept us waiting for some time, though they are clear on a stronger Lokpal Bill and more power to local government bodies pertaining to infrastructure projects), especially after Arvind Kejriwal telling Rajdeep Sardesai that he doesn’t know what Modi’s agenda really is, finally, the man has finally come out with certain statements to clearly define his public policy approach in his speech at Ramlila Maidan, New Delhi, on 19th January 2014, after his speech at SRCC in 2013 where he said that the government has no business to be in business in spite of running very many PSUs in Gujarat and talking of the Gujarat model being based on three sectors – agriculture, industry and services, as though there was something novel about that, though someone studying economics at an elementary level identifies the three as the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors respectively.
While Modi’s 19th January speech may look impressive on the surface, a scrutiny of the pointers reveals that his suggestions are really not all that great, and as the Economic Times describes them, they are “short of innovation” and don’t “get down to brass tacks”. But, before coming to that, I know that an inevitable comparison would be made with Rahul Gandhi. While I am not, by any stretch of imagination, a fan of the Congress dynast (though dynasty politics even exists in parties allied to the BJP, like the Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal, and to an extent, even in the BJP) and his latest interview to Arnab Goswami was, on the whole, far from impressive, it must be noted that Modi has said several ridiculous things in interviews like attributing malnutrition in Gujarat to girls’ figure-consciousness and drawing an analogy of the horrendous riots in 2002 with his car running over a puppy. Rahul has rightly been described in the social media as Pappu, while Narendra Modi is described as Feku for his resorting to lies and half-truths time and again, famous among them being China spending 20% on education (as against just about 4%!), Nehru not attending Patel’s funeral and even some false or half-true claims about his own achievements.
In this article, I seek to analyze Modi’s 19th January speech in the light of the validity of his claims and how they compare to his track record of governance in Gujarat.
Some of the things he has talked about are very general in nature, like strengthening agriculture and animal husbandry, and about the importance of tourism and technology. These are vague pointers that find mention in every manifesto. He has enlisted five Ts – talent, tradition, tourism, trade and technology, but while that may sound fancy, he has to tell us what his policy initiatives in each of the last three are. In fact, most of his speech delved on how great our family values are, on how we have such a huge corpus of youth and on how bad the Congress is, and many people would have appreciated his having delved more into what his proposed policy reforms would be.
Modi has started off by saying that good governance is a necessity for the poor, not the rich. He can afford to say that, since he knows that big business houses are backing him anyway. As for displacement of people for ‘development’ projects, the apathetic attitude of Modi towards the tribals to be relocated for the Narmada dam is well-known, and the forcible acquisition of fertile agricultural land has raised a storm in Gujarat (for reference, please see this – while the MLA may have had his own vested interests, farmers protested, and so did veteran Gandhian activists). Here’s another farmers’ issue that has cropped up – http://www.frontline.in/the-nation/in-the-name-of-development/article5038195.ece?homepage=true. The Forest Rights Act is a landmark statute, and senior police officers have lauded it as a part of an effective solution to the problem of Naxalism (which, by the way, is not non-existent in Gujarat), but its implementation has been very poor in many parts of the country, including Congress-ruled Maharashtra (and I’ve written on the same in this piece), but Modi’s Gujarat has fared no better, with activists having to move to the judiciary to ensure proper implementation of the Act, though fortunately, now, at the behest of the organization ARCH and not the Modi administration, GPS technology is being put to use in Gujarat for proper implementation of this landmark statute.
He has mentioned that a Price Stabilization Fund ought to be created to fight food inflation. Indeed, food inflation is a major issue India is grappling with, but the fact of the matter is that a price stabilization fund already exists! Yes, this fund is for cash crops like tea, coffee and rubber and is meant to combat deflation, and if Modi wants to expand its operations, he ought to explain, if only briefly, what this scheme should entail! Many economists feel that the creation of such a fund would not help fight inflation in India, for the real problem with respect to food crops lies elsewhere. As Yoginder K. Alagh, a former professor at an Ivy League university and IIM-Kolkata, has pointed out–
“(T)he problem of the Indian price policy lies elsewhere. For the farmer to gain a better price, the terms of trade must be favourable. In the ‘90s, the terms of trade moved against agriculture and farm profitability fell by 15%. Agricultural investment fell as a shore of agricultural GDP. This trend has been reversed since the middle of the last decade. But this has little to do with a stabilization fund but rather by ensuring enough budgetary support via minimum support prices and government support for agricultural infrastructure. Both are incentives to farmers to invest in farm development and modern technology. Price stability has to be accompanied by steps to design a price regime for the farmer to increase supplies. The problem is not just ironing our fluctuations in prices but also raising prices.
Steps to reduce the time lag with which agricultural data becomes available for policy and trade use have been highlighted in details by two expert committees of the National Statistical Commission – one on grains chaired by A Vaidyanathan and the other for the sector as a whole chaired by me.”
Indeed, again, while Modi claims that there is no data pertaining to agricultural production and how much would be necessary, such data exists, and I have accessed it myself in 2011 while making a study of food security from the Ministry of Agriculture where bureaucrats handed it out to me without any reservations, even though I hadn’t come to them through any influential source. That the compilation of such data ought to be faster, as Alagh points out, is another story.
Modi also declared that a “national agricultural market” needs to be created in India, without caring to explain what he means by that! We do obviously have a domestic market for our agricultural products, and we also have a National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India under the aegis of the Ministry of Agriculture dating back to 1958! If Modi wanted to imply the lessening of middle-men in the agricultural market, he ought to have stated that specifically; else, this statement of his is vague and meaningless!
As for making special courts for black marketing, it is an oversimplified way of trying to deal with every problem by suggesting special courts, be it for rape, terrorism, corruption, riots and what not. The need of the hour is to reform the existing judicial system, something about which Modi did not even utter a word! And yes, trial courts in Gujarat, at least till 2011 and perhaps even now, still use MS DOS!
As for focusing on education to generate employment, Modi’s entire focus is on technical education, but he only gave a passing reference to primary education in his speech, which is misplaced. The need of the hour is to strengthen the child rights commissions at the centre and in the states to implement the Right to Education Act regulating education in the age bracket of six to fourteen years (I have explained this in some detail in this article of mine), but the creation of such a commission in Gujarat took a very long time and till February 2012, the government of Gujarat was telling the High Court of Gujarat that it was considering the creation of such a commission! Gujarat’s literacy level has risen less under Modi than Bihar’s has under Nitish, for example, and yet, the Gujarat government spends less on education than that of Kerala, which is known for its very high literacy rate. Contrast this with Modi saying that India should learn from China’s high budgetary allocation to education, wrongly stating the same to be 20%! Moreover, the dropout rate from primary school in Gujarat is also very high.
Modi has then gone on to talk about retrieving black money stashed abroad, but has again nowhere explained how he actually wishes to do so, circumventing, for example, the non-disclosure policy of Swiss banks. He would do well to strengthen Gujarat’s Lokayukta Act, among the weakest in the country! Only a small fraction of India’s black money goes abroad; why not focus on checking corruption and black money in India itself? On that, Modi didn’t utter a word, and while he and his party initially supported Anna Hazare’s Jan Lokpal Bill, they later were happy to join hands with their opponents, the Congress, for a weaker draft! And is Modi’s administration in Gujarat corruption-free? Certainly not, and two of his ministers have been convicted for a fake passport racket and illegal limestone mining respectively, while a fisheries minister accused of a scam running into hundreds of crores, was shielded by Modi from prosecution, something fortunately overturned by the governor of Gujarat, similar to how the Congress tried to shield Ashok Chavan in the Adarsh case. In Gujarat, an RTI activist Amit Jethwa was murdered and a BJP MP has been booked for the same, without any murmur of protest from the party.
Further, Modi goes on to say that human resources and infrastructure are as important as good governance. But doesn’t good governance mean creating good physical and social infrastructure and creating best of conditions for human resources to reach their maximum potential? Nonetheless, let me talk a little about infrastructure in Gujarat. The leading public intellectual Ramachandra Guha, who is by no means pro-Congress (he accused Sonia Gandhi of nepotism when it came to the appointment of the director of the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, and he has accused Rajiv Gandhi of the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom and Indira Gandhi of authoritarianism, and he is critical of Rahul too for being a product of dynasty politics) or pro-Left (he has written articles criticizing the Left too), has written about traveling “through Saurashtra, whose polluted and arid lands spoke of a hard grind for survival”. He goes on to mention – “In the towns, water, sewage, road and transport facilities were in a pathetic state; in the countryside, the scarcity of natural resources was apparent, as pastoralists walked miles and miles in search of stubble for their goats”. Those who may not have visited Gujarat may imagine that it is like a developed country within the Indian Union, but the truth is far from it. It’s not rare to find people in rags in Gujarat, and the spectacular highways apart, not all the roads are in an excellent condition (to give a specific example among many others, a from Kudasan leading to my college in Koba was in a bad shape for months together).
Then, Modi goes on to say in his speech that we ought to think of solutions like a gas grid and an optical fibre network, as though no one has thought of introducing these ideas in India before. Speaking of a gas grid, back in 2012, the then oil minister Jaipal Reddy had declared that India would a comprehensive gas grid by 2017, and already, it is partly operational in certain areas like parts of Delhi. Thus, while it is not Modi’s unique idea as he is portraying it to be, Modi has not clearly given any commitment as to how much time he would take to institutionalize a gas grid across the country, unlike Reddy. Referring to an optical fibre network, again while not being his novel idea as he portrayed it to be, this project has already taken off in 2012 with a separate PSU, Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL), created for the purpose, with the cooperation of several state governments, including Modi’s. Then, Modi has talked about developing a series of infrastructure projects along our long coastline, but has not clarified what he is exactly referring to!
Modi then goes on to complain of how our railway network has been neglected and we need to learn from Japan’s example of bullet trains, though the fact of the matter is that even before this speech of his, the UPA has been working on this project in collaboration with the Japanese government!
Modi rightly praises Vajpayee for introducing the Golden Quadrilateral in the context of roads, but then appropriates the idea of a golden quadrilateral for railways for himself, though the idea had been floated during Vajpayee’s tenure itself back in 2002!
Further, seemingly quite deviating from the train of thought, Modi goes on to start talking about crimes against women. However, here too, while the Gujarati society in general, even prior to Modi becoming chief minister, has been much better than many other Indian societies on this front, Modi’s tenure has seen a rise, not fall, of rapes in Gujarat, and the most infamous of these was the gang-rape in Patan. To read about a few recent cases of rape in Gujarat, have a look at . In a shocking incident, a minister in Modi’s government disclosed a rape victim’s identity! However, it would be intellectually dishonest on my part if I were to not appreciate Modi’s statement in his 19th January speech that we have so far seen women as home-makers but now we ought to see them as nation-builders. While women have already made their mark in different spheres of life in India, Modi has done well to attack patriarchy and to do so without falsely suggesting that gender equality in every sense as we understand it today is a traditional Indian value but rather a modern idea we ought to embrace. This is in stark contrast to his putting a price tag on Sunanda Pushkar Tharoor (who is now no more) and something that should be appreciated.
Modi then goes on to talk about setting up a hundred smart cities and twin cities, but didn’t utter a word about how to improve town planning in existing cities. His own projects for new cities in Gujarat, like GIFT, have faced many delays and roadblocks and are yet to be completed. Moreover, the capital city of Gujarat, Gandhinagar (and not Ahmedabad, as some would wrongly imagine), is filthy in many places and is inhabited by slum-dwellers in many parts, and did not even have a municipality for many years before a court order compelled its creation, and in the first municipal elections in Gandhinagar, the Congress won by a thumping majority. For a long time, Gandhinagar had a very poor drainage system.
Then, Modi talks of improving agriculture through better irrigation systems following the “per drop more crops” principle (and this phrase is not his creation, as some may imagine, nor did he claim it is) and Modi has done some remarkable work in the field of agriculture in Gujarat, but hundreds of farmers have also committed suicide in Gujarat owing to poverty, something Modi’s government tried to conceal (for reference, please see – http://www.dnaindia.com/ahmedabad/1815086/report-what-drove-135-gujarat-farmers-to-suicide and http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/Ahmedabad/11-farmers-end-lives-but-Gujarat-doesn-t-blink/Article1-917936.aspx).
However, Modi did well to highlight Vajpayee’s river-linking project, though without dealing with the associated ecological concerns.
Then, he makes a sweeping claim of there being no measurement of land holdings in India in spite of having satellites, but that claim is blatantly false.
He further suggests that famers ought to grow trees and then cut them so that India need not depend on other countries to meet its timber supply. What he seems oblivious to are India’s laws that prohibit felling trees, except in areas specifically designated by the government. Forest laws in India have sparked off much debate, but Modi’s solution circumvents all these dimensions! However, Modi did well to suggest that the White Revolution should be taken across India.
He then refers to the issue of electricity, saying that we ought to ensure a non-erratic electricity supply across the country. Indeed, he takes great pride for having done so in Gujarat, though 99.99% of Gujarat’s villages had been electrified by the Congress back in 1991 (for reference, please see this article and you can do the math yourself), though to give credit where it is due, Modi did check the problem of electricity theft in Gujarat impressively.
Then, as for his reference to preventive health care, the story in Gujarat isn’t as promising, as even Amartya Sen has pointed out.
Further, he rightly emphasizes the importance of expanding India’s soft power by way of tourism, but then goes on to give a rather unimpressive and, in my opinion, silly slogan – “Terrorism divides, tourism unites!” That both should be compared because they begin with the letter ‘t’ and end with ‘ism’ seems ridiculous to me!
Then, Modi mentions “idea of India” as a new phrase, though it was used back in history by Rabindranath Tagore, and then screams out Sanskrit phrases at the top of his voice to explain his idea of India.
He concludes by asking everyone to cheer by saying “Vote for India!”, the implicit message being that only his party stands for India, while others do not, which is a rather dangerously undemocratic message.
On the whole, I must say that this was certainly not as great a speech as some have portrayed it to be. As leading economist Dr. Subroto Roy (not to be confused with the chairman of the Sahara group), who has worked with the IMF and World Bank and taught at some of the finest universities in the world, articulates-
“Intellectual chaos in the BJP at the top? There is no other explanation for Narendra Modi’s rambling incoherent speech to his party faithful… national agricultural market, price stabilization fund, mission mode, agro industries, bullet trains, manpower planning… just an amalgam of terms his blinkered management types think can amount to economic policy… Besides, he loves the sound of his own voice and can go on waffling endlessly, fails to understand his audience’s discomfort and leads them in meaningless sloganeering… This is not good governance, this is not a Mission or Vision statement, this is not statesmanship or leadership… It is just gassing… Who is worse, the BJP or the Congress I asked… It remains hard to tell…”