The Prime Minister began his election campaign in Bhuj, Gujarat, proclaiming that he was the ‘son of Gujarat’, and warned that any one who comes to Gujarat and levels allegations against the son of the soil will not be forgiven by the people of the state.
The Prime Minister began his election campaign in Bhuj, Gujarat, proclaiming that he was the ‘son of Gujarat’, and warned that any one who comes to Gujarat and levels allegations against the son of the soil will not be forgiven by the people of the state. The BJP has ruled Gujarat since 1995. Mr Modi became the chief minister in October 2001 and, after he vacated the office in 2014, the state has had two chief ministers hand-picked by him. The first (Mrs Anandiben Patel) was a disaster and the second (Mr Vijay Rupani) is a disappointment. Hence the need for Mr Modi to make himself the election issue and ask for votes in his name. I think it is unusual for a Prime Minister to do so.
Gujarat Not Exceptional
In the last 57 years, Gujarat, like other states, has made progress. It is one of the states that benefited from the liberalisation of 1991, but Gujarat is not exceptional. In September 2013, a committee under Dr Raghuram Rajan constructed an ‘Underdevelopment Index’ for 28 states for the purpose of evolving a method for allocation of Central funds. The least developed state was Odisha with an index of 0.79 and the most developed states were Goa (0.05) and Kerala (0.15). Gujarat got an index of 0.50, in the mid-point of the scale, and was almost on a par with Karnataka. On the Social Progress Index for 29 states, released by the Institute for Competitiveness and the Social Progress Imperative, Gujarat is plumb in the middle (rank 15) with 14 states above and 14 states below. Gujarat is in the top five on ‘Basic Human Needs’ but in the bottom five on ‘Foundations of Wellbeing’ and 9th from the bottom on ‘Opportunity’.
People Have Grievances
Like in every state, sections of the people of Gujarat are dissatisfied. The farmers are particularly unhappy. The Sardar Sarovar dam is an example of poor governance. Less than a quarter of the planned 18.45 lakh hectares receives water for irrigation. Over 30,000 km of canals are yet to be completed. Mr Tushaar Shah, a senior fellow at the International Water Management Institute, writes: “After 35 years in the works, Rs 48,000 crore in capex, 45,000 ousted families, 245 submerged villages and 250,000 hectares of land acquired, for Gujarat, the Sardar Sarovar dam project still remains just that, a promise.”
Other sections of the people have their own grievances. The Patidars want reservation for their community in jobs and educational institutions. The Dalits and the Scheduled Tribes believe they have been neglected and are the victims of oppression and violence. The minorities believe they are discriminated against and a majoritarian agenda is being imposed upon them.
There are voices in Gujarat in support of and against demonetisation. There are people who are tolerant of the flawed implementation of the GST as well as people — particularly in the SME sector, textile business and diamond trade — who are indignant at the faulty design and hasty implementation of the GST. New appointees among Gujarat’s government servants, including teachers, are contract employees on low, fixed salaries — a clear violation of Article 14.
Such grievances are not peculiar to Gujarat. Movements, organisations and leaders will emerge to voice the grievances. That is the way a democracy works. Mr Hardik Patel, Mr Jignesh Mevani and Mr Alpesh Thakor have emerged as leaders. They are entitled to oppose the government of the day and to ask for the support of the people. They and the farmers, traders and government servants have not ‘come to Gujarat’ to level allegations against a son of the soil. They are as much sons of the soil as Mr Narendra Modi is.
Real Issues Ignored
Mr Modi is Prime Minister of India. He promised achche din (good days). He promised to bring back the black money stashed abroad and deposit `15 lakh in the bank account of every person. He promised 2 crore jobs every year. He should speak on those promises. He should speak on the concerns of the people of Gujarat, on Sardar Sarovar dam, on Una, on the ghettoisation of towns and cities, on the financial condition of Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation, on the Nano car project, on malnourished children, on the sex ratio and on the flourishing illegal trade in liquor.
He should speak on matters that concern all of India, such as farmers’ distress, oppression of Dalits, discrimination against minorities, deprivation of forest and other rights of the Scheduled Tribes, unemployment, price rise, plight of SMEs, reservation, majoritarianism, intolerance, vigilantism, the Rafale deal and the GDP growth rate.
Nobody has hurt Gujarati asmita (pride). No one hates Gujarat or Gujaratis. Long before Mr Modi became chief minister, the Indian people and the Central governments (including Congress governments) had recognised the achievements of numerous Gujaratis, starting with Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhiji was an Indian and a son of Gujarat; he is revered as the Father of the Nation; and his chosen instrument to lead the freedom struggle was the Congress party. Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel were comrades-in-arms and remained so until the Sardar’s untimely death. Morarji Desai, Gulzarilal Nanda, Vikram Sarabhai, Jhaverchand Meghani, Tribhuvandas Patel, IG Patel and many others — besides Gujarati-speaking Parsis — were honoured and celebrated citizens.
Even during a state election, Mr Narendra Modi should speak as the Prime Minister of India.