What’s the Gujarat Model and who’s seen it?

Debunking an abiding 21st century myth of the Gujarat Model


There is a Gujarati, not a Gujarat, Model of economic growth. Photo: Rajan Chaughule/Bloomberg
There is a Gujarati, not a Gujarat, Model of economic growth. Photo: Rajan Chaughule/Bloomberg

One abiding 21st century myth is the Gujarat Model. What is this chimera and who has seen it? It is supposed to be the thing which has delivered Gujarat high growth and efficient, corruption-free government. But what does this new and improved model look and smell like?

The boring fact is that the laws governing Gujarat are no different from those governing other Indian states. So if it is a model, it is a strange sort into which one is supposed to read differences where none exist. If one probes further, one is told the model lies in unmeasurables: Good governance! Decisiveness!

All arrant nonsense.

Even so, the Gujarat Model has been bandied about for so long and so loudly that it has become real. Tens of millions of people are about to vote for it, on the assumption or hope that it is coming soon to their state.

The truth, sorry to disappoint, is that there is no Gujarat Model. There is a Gujarati Model, and there has always been.

Where on earth do Gujaratis need Narendra Modi’s Model to make them successful?

Do the Patels of America, who run their empire of motels, need Modi’s genius? Do the Memons of South Africa? The Gujaratis of East Africa, who dominate the economies of Kenya and Tanzania? The Palanpuri Jains who compete with Hasidic Jews in controlling the diamond bourse of Israel and have made Brussels and Antwerp Gujarati outposts, do they need the Gujarat Model?

What about Azim Premji in Bangalore? Does he need Modi? Did the Tatas? Mumbai’s stock market is preponderantly Gujarati, and has been since the 19th century. The best shops in the spice markets of Kochi have boards saying “GUJARATI OWNER”, because that is a byword for competence, and a reputation acquired over centuries, not since 2001.

Dhirubhai Ambani did not need Modi to make his fortune. The only Gujarati I can think of who has made his billions in the reign of Modi is Gautam Adani, in whose plane Modi is cutting across the country delivering sermons.

So forget the Gujarat Model. So far as the Gujarati Model goes, it cannot be replicated in West Bengal, Odisha or Bihar. Not unless enormous numbers of Gujaratis are produced and sent forth to colonise these parts, armed with their business chops, their vegetarianism and their hypocritical abstinence from alcohol (a most unappealing thought) to acculturate the natives.

And it is embarrassing for many Gujaratis—I am one—to be told that all of the success of their great state is attendant on the sublime genius of one man. Now I have always liked the rogue who grabs what he can. Some cultures are always in need of saving. Modi can hardly be faulted for his behaviour in claiming to be a self-referential and angry prophet of the Hebrew kind. I have a problem with the gullibility of those who fall for this, and who thrust their insistence upon others.

When the economy was opened up by the change in laws starting in 1991, Gujarat’s economy picked up. It would have done so no matter which government had written these laws opening up the world to Gujarati businessmen. It would have done so no matter who was running the state in Gujarat. And mind you, it isn’t as if Gujarat is clubbing the world into submission with its economic growth. It cannot even grow at 10% on a small base.

There are problems Gujaratis have that are inherent to the Gujarati Model. We have no English and therefore no stake in the new services businesses that have created India’s new urban middle class (something for Modi’s Internet enthusiasts to think about). Even the brilliance of the great man could bring Gujarat no share in this. Gujaratis have always been, and even today are, focused on a few industries. In these we do not innovate and our contribution to the science and technology aspects of even these industries is not much. Efficient raisers and managers of capital, yes. World-beaters in all industry, no.

We should not fault Modi for this, just as it is wrong to credit him for everything. Gujaratis are as disinterested in, and as poor at, science and invention as other Indians.

The romance with Modi as saviour is based on ignorance of how Gujarat works. It is not a state whose economy Modi has invented since 2001. It is not a replicable model and it will not be replicated no matter what Modi’s table-thumpers say.

The unromantic reality is that no one man (even if I accept the assertion of Modi’s devotees that the Gujarati male is a manifestly superior species) is going to come bearing deliverance for your state.

You’re going to have to build your model yourself, as Gujaratis have theirs. Good luck with that.

Also Read | Aakar’s previous Lounge columns

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