Too Much Secularism is a Dangerous Thing
By Dipankar Gupta
Is the Congress afraid of winning in Gujarat?
Nothing else explains why it lets Narendra Modi tom-tom development when it should have been the Congress banging the drums. The economic achievements of governments before Modi’s read like an award citation, but too much secularism has since led the Congress astray. Instead of showcasing its past performance to regain Gujarat, it is obsessed with nailing Modi as a communalist-in-chief. Naturally, it is not getting anywhere fast.
Look also at the good memories the Congress is erasing away.
In 1991, a full ten years before Modi arrived, as many as 17,940 out of 18,028 villages were already electrified. The Ukai plant, which uses washed coal to generate power, was also pre-Modi as was the asphalting of 87.5% of Gujarat roads. 1980-81, Gujarat’s share in manufacturing at the national level was only 16.29%, but by 2000-1 it rose to an impressive 28.71%. Not surprising then, that between 1994-2001, well before Modi, Gujarat’s State Domestic Product grew at 10%-13%; way higher than the All-India average.
Since 1980, Gujarat has been India’s poster state. Modi had nothing to do with the world’s largest ship breaking yard coming up in Bhavnagar, nor with the setting up of the Ambani refinery in Jamnagar. Well before Modi, Gujarat accounted for 45% of India’s petroleum products, roughly 18% of the country’s cargo handling, 23% of our total requirement for crude oil and 30% of our natural gas needs from offshore basins.
In addition, Gujarat, since the 1990s, produces as much as 78% of the country’s salt, 98% of soda ash and 26% of India’s pharmaceutical products. Because of Chief Minister Chimanbhai Patel’s intervention in 1993 that port traffic in this state jumped from a mere 3.18 million tonnes in 1981 to 86.17 million tonnes in 2001. In the same period, Gujarat’s share of the national port traffic increased from 45.36% to above 76% and has stayed there ever since. Modi’s decade has not made that percentage grow.
During the eventful 1990s, Gujarat successfully augmented 35% of its power generation capacity. It also closed down five major loss-making public sector units, initiating instead a variety of public-private partnerships. In fact, an early short-lived BJP government under Keshubhai Patel in 1995-6 did some good work too. In particular, he was instrumental in setting up Gujarat’s Industrial Development Board, but Modi has blanked him out from public memory as well.
If Gujarat’s agriculture is prospering today it is because the state has begun to receive Sardar Sarovar waters from 2002. Once again, Modi had little to do with the inauguration of this Project, but he was at the right place and at the right time to take the credit for it. If there was ever a person who reaped what somebody else had sown, then that is Modi.
Gujarat also is not alone in posting agricultural growth rates above the national average; even backward Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh handsomely beat the all India figure. Finally, it is not as if Gujarat is overall the richest state either; Haryana, Punjab, Maharashtra and Kerala are all much better off, primarily because they have lower rural poverty rates.
At the same time, to round off this number, it must be acknowledged Gujarat was never poor. True, it was a lowly eighth in terms of prosperity in 1960, but it has been at number three since 1985 and continues to hold that spot. Modi may not have self-started Gujarat’s development, but he certainly kept the engine running.
In line with this, Modi should be credited for taking a few initiatives on his own. For example, while Gujarat’s villages were all lit, it is also a fact that the State’s electricity board was bankrupt in 2002. Loans were arranged to overcome this shortfall and power thefts too were curtailed by police monitoring. Gujarat also did well in making Central Government’s “Sarva Shiksha Abhiayan” work, especially in connection with the girl child. Yet, the percentage fall in Gujarat’s IMR and poverty rates are well below the national average.
It is not as if Gujarat’s pre-2001 achievements are hard to dredge out of history. But by keeping silent about its successful past, the Congress has added body to Modi’s presence. This enables him to keep his people in line by telling them he is about to get angry, but that should not disorient the opposition. Now that Gujarat’s economy is all grown up and good looking, the Congress should admit its responsibility and submit to a paternity test. What is there to hide?
Hefty anti-saffron helpings, on their own, will not do. With a stomach full of that stuff, the Congress can hardly catch up with Modi. In fact, Jawaharlal Nehru taught us that secularism does not win elections, development does. Why then is the Congress doing its best to come second best by gagging the record of non-BJP governments through much of the 1990s? In politics, as in sports, winning is not everything, it is the only thing.
Most recently, Mukesh Ambani praised Narendra Modi for putting Gujarat on the world map. He seems to have forgotten that his father, and Reliance, prospered in Gujarat well before Modi properly entered politics. On the other hand, there is much wisdom in the old Sicilian proverb that we keep our friends close, but our enemies even closer.
In which case, is Mukesh close or closer to Modi?
This op-ed appeared in the Times of India on October 7, 2011 and is reproduced here with permission of the author.