Lessons from the Gujarat Model
There are some aspects unique to the Gujarat Model. Can these be brought to ‘lesser Indians’?
Prometheus carried fire from the gods to humans, civilizing them. What Gujarati magic does Narendra Modi come bearing to transform Delhi? I want to explore aspects of the Gujarat Model from the inside. In what ways is Modi’s Gujarat different from other states? Let’s examine a few because they tell us something about why it is special.
It is, of course, a dry state. Not because the government insists, mind you, but because its population does.
I will illustrate this with an anecdote about my friend Prashant Dayal, a remarkable man who educated himself while he plied autorickshaws. It was his reporting (read the Rediff story “Rickshaw Driver—Journalist Behind Gujarat Arrests”) that put Modi’s anti-terrorist chief D.G. Vanzara in jail for murdering a man and his wife, and got the then minister of state for home affairs Amit Shah into trouble.
Soon after, Dayal was charged with sedition—good governance at work, no doubt, or perhaps decisiveness. I can never tell which is which.
Anyway, while we were colleagues at Divya Bhaskar, Dayal filed a story on Gujaratis who were against lifting prohibition. Nothing new, except for the fact that all the men he interviewed held permits to drink. Even these hypocrites were against the sale of booze. Drinking is fine; drinking legally is not.
Bharatiya Janata Party leader Arun Jaitley spoke recently about why. “For over 15 years I have been a Rajya Sabha member from Gujarat, and I can tell you that whenever I go there during Navratri, girls come to attend dandiya alone and the difference is you would never see a drunk man on the roads. There are people who break prohibition rules there, but they confine themselves to the four walls of their houses. You would never see them on the roads,” he said.
This is poppycock. It is actually his mercantile Vaishnav culture, which does not put a premium on honour, that makes the Gujarati less disposed to violence. Even so what Jaitley said is a commonly held view. The fetching Archana Jani, a famous Radio Mirchi RJ, said on her show in Ahmedabad that she felt safe in Gujarat because of prohibition. This is how puerile its liberals are.
The fact is that Gujaratis, like Pakistanis and all other devout and pious cultures, are hard-drinking. The Times Of India reported on 26 April that the biggest seizure of booze as a voting incentive was made by the Election Commission in Gujarat.
This paradox—lots of drinking and none of it legal—has legitimized corruption in Gujarat on a very serious scale. Gujaratis don’t even consider paying off the police when caught drinking, corruption; they see it as a fee. Corruption has been internalized by the populace more than in other states. Something for Gujarat Model enthusiasts to chew over.
Second: Modi’s Gujarat is one of India’s biggest generators of black money.
It is a hive of small businesses, which are the generators of cash. But the major problem is there is no urban, professional white-collar middle class, the group that usually insists on “white” payment because they are salaried. Gujaratis have contempt for those who do “service”, no matter at what level. So the middle-class Gujarati gravitates towards business, with even the peasant Patel being reasonably good at it. A very famous and popular advertising campaign in the early 1980s run by Rajkumar Silk Mills, which was seeking more sales outlets, urged the people of Surat: Naukri chhodo, vyapar karo (Leave your job and do business).
This has meant few people have the option, or ability, to buy a flat or property in “white”. The “black” component is about half the total amount. Thousands of crores of revenue is lost to the government on a scale larger than Mumbai, Delhi and other places where, as those who have bought flats will know, the “black” component has fallen.
Modi did not change this, nor could he.
The Hindu reported on 22 April a speech in which Modi “declared that black money stashed away abroad would be brought back if NDA returned to power and it would be used for the welfare of the poor and to reward honest income-tax payers”.
Why not start with Gujarat? The problem of black money, an issue which turns many of us apoplectic, is not that it is stashed abroad, but that it is generated by Indians. Of the 18 people named for holding black money accounts in Liechtenstein Bank on Tuesday, 15 are Gujaratis.
There is, again, a paradox here. When Girish Agarwal of Dainik Bhaskar came to launch his paper in Ahmedabad, he observed that Gujaratis were ultra-nationalistic. “You people think of yourselves as being Indian in more situations than the rest of us,” he told me. True. A group of ultra-nationalists with no qualms about thieving from the state.
Third: This is an observation from a friend, the brilliant photographer Namas Bhojani, a Gujarati who recently went back to Gujarat. He sent a text message when he was at Vadodara:
“What I see is far from clean, it is actually a rather filthy city with no footpaths to walk on! maybe I should have done a photo feature to show the filth and dirt, but a bit too late to pitch that anywhere now. 50 bucks for small traffic offence to the cops, no one wears helmets or cares about the law, the excise money for liquor goes underground rather than to the government as tax, so what is the big deal of the Gujarat model?”
What indeed. I don’t know. It’s over-excited outsiders that pine for it.
Anyway, on 24 April, Modi said this in his 3D rally: “God chooses certain people to do the difficult work. I believe God has chosen me for this work.... I will make Varanasi one of the cleanest cities in the country. I did that to Surat, which had been ravaged by plague due to lack of cleanliness.”
The God bit is probably true because he tends to focus on Gujaratis (I know he has chosen me to write this column), but the Surat bit is a lie. Surat was cleaned many years before Modi took charge, by an IAS man called S.R. Rao, the city’s municipal commissioner, who was given a Padma Shri for his effort. Actually, it was cleaned by Surtis themselves under Rao’s leadership.
Terrified by the bubonic plague, which made them subjects of American and European newspaper reporting, Surtis formed something called the Rao Sena. It was an unofficial citizen body that followed the commissioner around on his rounds. The Rao Sena helped him demolish illegal structures and clear up the city.
In a 1996 interview with Outlook (“Cleaning Up the Plague City”), Rao said: “Even the mosques and temples voluntarily broke down their encroachments. Several demolished the structures at their own cost. In fact, I am still trying to figure out the reason for such (an) enthusiastic response.”
What explains the paradox between the apathy Bhojani observed in Vadodara and this miracle in Surat? The reason is to be found in an extreme pragmatism, which often makes sacrifices in the larger self-interest. It is a Gujarati phenomenon. It is coupled with an ability to fall lockstep behind authority in an instant. This behaviour is something most other states will find difficult, and something all liberals will find scary.
These are some aspects that are unique to the Gujarat Model. Let’s see if they can be brought to lesser Indians, though I hope our Prometheus doesn’t also bring fire of the sort he brought to Gujarat.
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