The News International (Pakistan) - April 13, 2013

by Praful Bidwai

"Modi moves centre-stage!" "Modi storms in as the BJP’s PM candidate." "It's Narendra Modi vs Rahul Gandhi!" "Modi wants to serve the nation" (read, become prime minister).

Thus scream the headlines in leading Indian publications and TV channels. At work is a systematic corporate blitzkrieg to build up Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as a messiah of ‘development’ and ‘dynamism’, who is destined to lead India. This replicates the Big Business’s pitch for Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1998.

In contrast to this media hype, totally unprecedented in Indian history, Modi remains a deeply polarising figure internationally and nationally, and even within the Sangh Parivar, which is reluctant to name him as its prime ministerial candidate. Nothing can remove the stigma he earned for Independent India’s worst pogrom of a religious minority, in 2002.

The EU’s myopic governments, driven by crass greed, have ended their political boycott of Modi. But Modi continues to be an abomination to conscientious citizens globally, as well as to millions of Hindus and non-Hindus in India, who treasure political decency and the values of secularism, tolerance and social inclusion. Internationally, he’s the most hated Indian.

This was once again demonstrated by the spirited protest against the invitation extended to Modi by Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania in the US to speak long-distance, which caused its cancellation. The issue was not Modi’s right to free expression, but hate speech and sanctification of the Gujarat butchery and his own pivotal role in it, documented by over 40 independent reports.

The protest was wholly in keeping with the ethos and culture of US universities, which registered their opposition to the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s by organising successful demonstrations against its apologists and preventing them from venting their imperialist views. The demonstrations helped end that unjust war and advance the causes of global justice and peace.

In contrast stands the ignominious chanting of support for Modi by Indian business groups and the media they control. Their campaign lionises Modi by depicting him as a knight in shining armour who will rescue India from economic stagnation, grinding poverty and missed opportunities towards ‘progress’ and promote the ‘Gujarat Model’ of development.

Politically, it would be egregiously wrong, and morally impermissible, to normalise a perverse, autocratic and crassly communal politician like Modi – who has repeatedly justified the 2002 violence, covered it up and shielded its perpetrators – even if Gujarat under him had registered India’s best growth rates and the ‘Gujarat Model’ worth emulating.

As it happens, the much-hyped up model is deeply flawed. Gujarat’s rank in per capita GDP has fallen between 1996 and 1997 from fourth to eighth among 19 major Indian states. Haryana, Punjab, Maharashtra, Kerala and Himachal Pradesh are ahead of it. Bigger states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are only a notch below.

True, at 10.1 percent a year, Gujarat’s GDP growth during 2004-2012 exceeded the 8.3 percent national average. But growth was even higher in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Bihar (respectively, 10.8, 10.3 and 11.4 percent). Even Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh have recently outperformed Gujarat.

Madhya Pradesh (MP), with 10.1 percent current growth, has become India’s fastest-growing state. It posted impressive agricultural growth of 18.9 and 14.3 percent in the last two years. Since 2003-04, MP’s revenue collection has risen fivefold and its capital outlay sixfold. Its revenue deficit has been wiped out despite a fourfold expenditure increase.

Unlike Gujarat’s ‘trickle-down’ approach, MP is state-interventionist in providing food and electricity to its people. Its growth is also more balanced and inclusive – unlike Gujarat, which has neglected agriculture and the social sector. Gujarat’s industrial growth is unbalanced, dominated by sectors like toxic chemicals production, ultra-hazardous ship breaking and diamond polishing, and of late, polluting power generation.

Gujarat’s agricultural growth has been unstable. Food grains output recently suffered two sharp dips of 22 and 11 percent, highlighting the vulnerability of agriculture on which 52 percent of its people are dependent.

Contrary to propaganda, Gujarat isn’t uniquely successful in attracting foreign direct investment. Maharashtra, Delhi, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are well ahead of Gujarat. In fact, Maharashtra drew in 6.78 times more FDI than Gujarat in 2000-2012.

If Gujarat’s growth story isn’t outstanding – it is largely built on past gains in industry and infrastructure – its human development index (HDI) story is mostly poor. Its all-India HDI rank fell from six in the mid-1990s to nine in the mid-2000s. Gujarat ranks a poor 18th in literacy rates among Indian states.

In infant mortality, Gujarat stood 25th among India’s 35 provinces in 2010-11. Its female infant mortality rate (51) was higher than the national average (46). Worse, its sex ratio in 2011 was an abysmal 918 females per 1,000 males, much lower than the national ratio of 940. The 0-6 sex ratio was just 886 compared to 914 nationally, giving Gujarat a shameful 27th rank in India.

In poverty reduction (8.6 percentage-points between 2004 and 2009), Gujarat lags behind Tamil Nadu (13.1), Maharashtra (13.7), Odisha (19.2), Madhya Pradesh (11.9) and Rajasthan (9.6). Employment has been almost stagnant in Gujarat since 2004-05. Less than five percent of its households are covered under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. Rural wage rates in Gujarat are among the bottom half of state rankings.

On the hunger index, Gujarat’s rank is an appalling 13 among 17 major Indian states. Even sub-Saharan Africa’s poorer countries do better. Nearly 45 percent of Gujarati children under five are malnourished. Gujarat’s hunger incidence exceeds that of Punjab, Kerala and Haryana, and even of much poorer Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Rajasthan. It’s in the same ‘acute hunger’ league as Bihar and Orissa.

So much for Gujarat’s growth, (mal-)development and ‘progress’! Gujarat has gaping economic inequalities and unacceptably poor social indices. Yet, Big Business loves the ‘Gujarat Model’ precisely because it likes imbalances biased towards private industry and because Modi lavishes favours upon capital through huge tax write-offs (for instance over 60 percent on the Tatas’ Nano car project).

Equally, Modi is a ‘man of action’ – a quick decision-maker personifying single-window approvals for business. He’s an autocrat who consults nobody – a one-person cabinet. ‘Big business’ adores him for his ruthless decisiveness. That’s why magnates from the Tatas and Ambanis to the Adanis, Ruias and various Gujarati businessmen have rushed to befriend and praise him.

The media reflects Indian business’s admiration for Modi. Instead of soberly reporting what he says and does, and reflecting critically on his authoritarian politics, it has joined the pro-Modi bandwagon. It gives him respectability and insinuates that he has the edge in a presidential-style contest, which Indian elections aren’t.

The mediating factor here is the ‘aspirational’ metropolitan upper-caste upper middle class, which is impatient with democracy and wants increasingly elitist approaches in economy and society. If that means welcoming a new fuehrer, so be it!

Most decision-makers in the corporate media, including owners, anchors and editors, belong to this class. In promoting Modi, they are committing the same blunders that Hitler’s and Mussolini’s business-backers made in the 1920s and 1930s. Some of them will rue this someday. Meanwhile, however, Indian democracy could face an extraordinary threat from the communal Extreme Right.

The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based in Delhi. Email: