Home / Mint-lounge / Features /  How Narendra Modi is hampering Gujarat’s growth

For India to grow at 10%, Gujarat must grow at 15%. Narendra Modi says this often, and he said it to me at least 10 years ago. The fact is that Gujarat is not growing at 15%. This year it may not even have grown 10%. Under Modi, Gujarat has never grown faster than it has grown before. And here’s why.

India’s share of services is 59% of gross domestic product (GDP). In Gujarat, services is only 46% of GDP, 13% less than the national average.

The share of industry is higher in Gujarat (41%, compared to just under 30% nationally) but this has always been the case. Gujarat produces first-rate industrialists with the same fecundity as Bengal produces artists. That was never wanting. What was missing from Gujarat was the new economy money, billions of dollars the rest of urban India is taking from the West.

Consultancy firm KPMG analysed why information technology (IT) and IT-enabled services (ITeS), which is bread and butter for Indian cities, were absent from Gujarat.

This was puzzling because “Gujarat offers relatively lower cost of operations, due to lower cost of real estate and lower compensation level". Modi had also addressed the problem specifically.

“Some of the policy initiatives include: a) Stamp duty waiver for IT park developer and concession for IT-ITeS units, b) Development of special economic zones, which provides various financial incentives, c) Exemptions from payment of electricity duty for five years from commencement of operations, d) Exemptions from power cuts, and e) Simplification in labor laws."

But the response is poor. Why? KPMG explained: “For the development of IT-ITeS sector, the most important requirement is the availability of talent pool. Gujarat underscores in availability of talent pool."

KPMG thought this was because of tworeasons: “a lack of engineering institutes" and “lack of proficiency in English".

This second aspect is the key, and is where Modi has failed Gujarat’s middle class. Visitors to Gujarat will be struck by how little English is spoken there. Even at the highest levels, business is conducted in Gujarati. When I go home to Surat, I can speak with friends only in Gujarati and even those educated in English speak a pidgin in an accent that other Indians will be familiar with (“snakes in the hole/snacks in the hall" as the old joke goes).

As a mercantile culture, Gujarat has not needed English because its elite did business (I am the only one of my circle of childhood friends, whether Hindu, Parsi or Muslim, who ever held a job). Employment was not for the upper classes, which explains KPMG’s comment about Gujarat’s “lower compensation level". The lack of English means Gujarat still doesn’t have a proper middle class as Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore do. No white-collar, anglicized, urban Indians like readers of this paper. It is why there is little social mobility for the lower middle class. For me, it is also why Gujarat is able to offer zero intellectual resistance to the crude bigotry of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). There is little sophistication of thought in the absence of English.

The problem is education. What has Modi done to address this? In 2002, he told me he was introducing a new curriculum where children would learn some subjects in English and others in Gujarati. But English would come in only in class VIII. This was later changed to class V. That is too late and by age 10 a child has already taken on a language.

In 2009, The Times of India reported from Ahmedabad that “not a single English-medium student has figured in the 32-strong state toppers’ list of class X exams conducted by the Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board (GSHSEB)".

Why hasn’t Modi introduced English right at the start? He wants to, but has been stopped by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). He could have convinced them, given his immense popularity with Gujaratis. The Congress has also supported English education, with Arjun Modhwadiya saying it was in favour of Gujaratis. But Modi chose not to spend political capital on this. He has in fact given up. Ramanlal Vora is Gujarat’s education minister. Here’s his tweet when he was given a ticket to contest again.

“Thanks to my party having faith in me for 5th time. I hearty thanks all my party workers who work for the party with all their energy and hard work.. Thank you all for be with me forever...."

Modi has put this person in charge of educating Gujarat’s children.

It’s not that there is competence in running education even in Gujarati. In August, it was reported that a single entrance test for medical students was approved after the Union government accepted the demand of Gujarat and other states to conduct NEET (National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test) in regional languages, including Gujarati.

In September it was reported by DNA that the parents’ association wanted the test pushed back by a year because of “unavailability of study material in Gujarati" and “inadequate preparedness among teachers".

Modi has kept a dozen ministries (in 2006, Modi was himself Gujarat’s minister for finance, home, industries, energy, petrochemicals, ports, mining and minerals, administration, information and broadcasting and every other important ministry you can think of concerning corporates and publicity). Education is not a priority for him because there’s hard work required and real thinking, a proper clash with the RSS. When he has come under pressure from the RSS for usurping too much power, he has surrendered on other issues like education in English, something that really affects his constituents, rather than letting go his beloved ministries.

Making heroic speeches at Vibrant Gujarat is easier. And of course, so is spewing rubbish about 15% growth which has not happened precisely because of him.

Aakar Patel is a writer and a columnist.

Also Read | Aakar’s previous Lounge columns

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