P Chidambaram explains development, and those left behind

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Published: November 19, 2017 4:55:59 AM

The story would be repeated once every two or three years: first a road, then a gravel road, then a metal road, then a black-topped (tar) road, and then a road laid and paved by a machine.

Women wait in a long queue to collect drinking water at Sitalpur village in Howrah, West Bengal (PTI)

Development means different things to different people. After contesting from a largely rural parliamentary constituency for more than 30 years, I often recount the following true story. Thirty years ago, many villages in Sivaganga were not connected by a road. The constant refrain was ‘get us a road’. Under one programme or other, the administration would find the money to make a ‘formation road’, usually a mud road. The people were happy that development had come. A couple of years later, they would be dissatisfied, point to the state of the road after the monsoons, and demand a gravel road. The story would be repeated once every two or three years: first a road, then a gravel road, then a metal road, then a black-topped (tar) road, and then a road laid and paved by a machine.

I have learned from experience that while people took pride when India joined the nuclear club or sent a Mission to Mars, development came to the people through the satisfaction of their immediate and material needs — water, electricity, schools, primary health centre, roads, industries, jobs, prices for agricultural produce and so on. Ultimately, development concerned the quality of life, longevity, good health, good education and greater income.

Sense of disappointment

Mr Narendra Modi, the candidate, claimed to bring development to the centre of the political debate in 2014 with his brilliant slogan achhe din aane wale hain. He also took to grandstanding with his extravagant promises: “I will create 2 crore jobs every year”, “I will bring back black money stashed abroad and put Rs 15 lakh in the bank account of every Indian” and so on. Obviously, none of the extravagant promises could be fulfilled. Hence, the all-round sense of disappointment after 42 months.

A similar sense of disappointment prevails in Gujarat which goes to election in December. The much-touted ‘Gujarat Model’ is being dissected and examined. The best thing that happened to Gujarat was the formation of the state in 1960. In the 57 years since, Gujarat has been ruled by the Congress (and by some offshoots) in the first three decades and by the BJP since 1995. Even before 1995, Gujarat’s growth rate was higher than the national average and Gujarat has maintained that edge. Amul, the ports, the vibrant textile industry and the chemical and petrochemical industry pre-date 1995. A large share of the credit is due to the people of Gujarat. (Basically, Gujaratis are a mercantile community. They are focused on trade and business.)

Distributive justice

Where the government of Gujarat has faltered — and can be faulted — is in its neglect of distributive justice. We may compare Gujarat with its sibling Maharashtra as well as with other frontline states like Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Kerala, with its outstanding gains in HDI (Human Development Index), is another comparable state (see table). The table tells the story of Gujarat and how, despite the boasts, Gujarat is not ahead of four comparable states. While Gujarat has progressed industrially, in many critical areas of human development, Gujarat may have actually regressed in the last 22 years. The most shocking statistics concern the children. It is because of the neglect of the social sector and an apparent disdain for the poor.

Social mobilisation

As a result of a distorted concept of development or vikas, many sections of the people have been left behind. They are mainly the Scheduled Tribes (14.8% of the population), Dalits (7.1%) and the minorities (11.5%). Even the Patel community (Patidars) is unhappy because they have not been put under the Other Backward Classes category and believe they have lost out on jobs and educational opportunities. There is massive social mobilisation: caste is an easier vehicle to mobilise, but the real motivation is absence of jobs. The slogan that has gone viral is vikas gando thayo che (Development has gone crazy!).

Any observer of Gujarat will notice the ferment in the society. The fault lines are visible. Many people openly say ‘change is in the air’. The election in Gujarat promises to be a contest of many hues: Economic/Social Reality vs Headline Grabbing Announcements and Poor Human Development Indicators vs Billion Dollar Investment Proposals. It may turn out to be an absorbing contest of Young Aspirational Leaders vs Old War Horses.

Website: pchidambaram.in @Pchidambaram_IN

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