Monday, May 4, 2009

Welcome Prime Minister Narendra Modi

By Roger Alexander

Now that I have your attention...

A carefully placed remark by Arun Shourie that Narendra Modi should be the prime minister of India and Arun Jaitley's quick endorsement - “Gujarat under the leadership of Narendra Modi has emerged as a role model for India” - has unleashed paroxysmal excitement in media circles. And true to form, most corporate media outlets in the country are spending considerable resources to follow and interview not the Butcher of Gujarat but the state's “saviour”.

Not surprisingly, the BJP has been quick to cash in. So what started as a ringing endorsement of Narendra Modi's “industry and business-friendly” policies by “captains” of Indian Inc, including Anil Ambani, Sunil Mittal and Ratan Tata, is now being palmed off as gospel truth.

Indeed, even the Supreme Court's recent direction that Modi's role in the 2002 Gujarat riots be probed by the Special Investigation Team is being termed a “shot in the arm” for the chief minister by self-appointed TV commentators and pollsters.

Their electoral calculations point out that this investigation will “enhance Modi's standing”. BJP spokesman also gleefully point out that the SC's directive will help the BJP in electoral arena.

These shameless apologists don't care that Modi's so-called “Vibrant Gujarat” is a figment of their warped imagination, a PR coup. But fortunately, truth is stranger than fiction.

Vivian Fernandes of CNBC-TV18, a pro-business channel, reported from Ahmedabad recently, “The land of the Nano is not just hungry for investments, it is just plain hungry. Also, it fares even worse than Orissa.”

According to the first-ever India State Hunger Index there is not a single state in the country where hunger levels are low or moderate. In most, they are alarming. The index is a combination of three measures: calorie deficiency, underweight children and infant deaths.

Of 88 countries studied internationally, Indian ranks 66. And within India there are wide variations. The index paints a grim picture of Gujarat under Modi's rule. The reports reveals that despite double digit overall economic and agricultural growth, Gujarat is 13th on the Indian list, below Haiti which is ranked 69. So despite double digit overall economic and agricultural growth, Modi's “Vibrant Gujarat” is at the same level as Orissa.

The BJP's drummer boys claim, “Under Modi, Gujarat has become an economic dynamo.” They point out that the state grew at approximately 12 per cent in 2006-7 against India’s overall growth of about 8 per cent that year.

But what is so great about this statistic? In 1994-1995 Gujarat surged at the rate of 13.2 per cent. There was no Narendra Modi then. In the years 1994-2001, Gujarat’s state domestic product registered a growth average of between 10 and 13 per cent. There was no Modi then either. He stepped in only at the tail end of this period so obviously he has done nothing special.

On the other hand, despite decades of growth, as much as 93 per cent of Gujarat’s workforce still toils in the informal sector. This is why growth is not always development. In fact, on the Human Development Index, Gujarat fell one place in 2003-2004, and now ranks below Kerala, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Karnataka. In terms of rural prosperity, Gujarat is at number five and well behind Punjab, the front ranker.

There is more. Workers employed under the National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREG) scheme in Gujarat receive half of what their counterparts get elsewhere. Interestingly, this fact was recently released by a Parliamentary Committee headed Kalyan Singh, once Hindutva's poster boy.

According to Ernst and Young, hired by Modi as consultants for the Vibrant Gujarat conclave of 2005, in terms of investment climate Gujarat ranked behind Kerala, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and on par with Karnataka at that time.
In terms of Workforce Quality, the same professionals gave Gujarat a very average “B grade” as it failed to measure up on a number of counts. It may be recalled in this connection that the Asian Development Bank in 1996 had ranked Gujarat as number two in India in terms of its investment climate. But in 2005, it was rated at number five.

So it is obvious that it is Modi’s highly personalized executive style, rather than his gift for economic miracles that attracts India Inc. “They give as much thought to Gujarat slipping in the development index as they would a drain inspector’s report. What matters to them is the manner of delivery. Modi did not just give Nano shelter, but also readied permits for Ratan Tata in three days flat...Here is a man who can bend the law at will, but you have to be good to him. Sweetening politicians is easier than playing by the book,” observes JNU professor Dipankar Gupta, adding, “CEO’s now look at Modi just as the ancient Israelites must have looked at Moses.”

Not surprisingly they don't give a damn about Modi's abysmal human rights record. The latest statistics put out by National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) reveal that Gujarat stands third in the list of states of complaints about human rights violation.

According to Vijay Zala and Zahid Quereshi reporting for the Ahmedabad Mirror on March 16, 2009, “A total of 3,813 complaints of human rights violation were received from Gujarat. That’s a notch higher than Bihar, much maligned for its lawlessness.” Overall, Modi's Gujarat ranked third in the rogues' gallery.

The Ahmedabad Mirror reporters talked to noted human rights activists, police brass and representatives of NGOs to know how bad the situation was on the ground level. Among those who gave an insight into the human rights situation in the state were senior lawyer and rights activist Girish Patel, NGO Citizens for Peace and Justice’s Teesta Setalvad, senior lawyer Mukul Sinha and social scientist Achyut Yagnik.

According to Girish Patel, violation of human rights is rampant in Gujarat. “This is the only state where ‘state terrorism’ prevails, where encounter deaths, forced disappearance of people, custodial violence, misuse of POTA and illegal detentions are common.”

He said district magistrates in Gujarat invoke Section 144 for long duration, which is an infringement of citizens’ human rights. The Gujarat Human Rights Commission is left non-functional, which burdens NHRC with a lot of monitoring in the state.

Patel said civil and political liberties of people are being violated in Gujarat in the name of development. Many projects launched in the state have taken away shelter and means of livelihood of poor people. The Kankaria lake front and Sabarmati river front projects in Ahmedabad have displaced a number of marginalised people, who were promised rehabilitation but never provided.

He said Modi claims to make the state free of fear, corruption and hunger. But while the three scourges remain, what has gone is the state of being ‘free’. Coining a new term - Unfortunate Resident Gujaratis (URG) - Patel said that is what has become of the state’s people.

Teesta Setalvad encapsulated the human rights situation in the state. “The mismatch between industrial and economic progress of Gujarat and its abysmal human rights record only points at how low the level of human development index in the state is. People must be provided health care, education, employment etc for Gujarat to be truly vibrant,” she says.

Social scientist Achyut Yagnik said three sections — Muslims, Adivasis and Dalits — have all along faced atrocities and human rights violations in Gujarat. The frequency and intensity of atrocity on these sections have increased since 2002. “There are two Gujarats – the ‘aam’ and the ‘khaas’. Of the two, the ‘aam’ Gujarat has been suffering badly at the hands of the ‘khaas’ Gujarat,” he points out.

Senior lawyer and social activists Mukul Sinha said incidence of human rights violations have increased in Gujarat since 2002. “Victims don’t get compensation, legal aid and proper rehabilitation. Crime against women has also increased. And disturbingly, rights violation cases occur more in the developed areas of the state,” he observes.

Yet, Narendra Modi, the chief minister of this state, is actually being seriously promoted as the Prime Minister of India!

The likes of Prannoy Roy, Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai may think that Narendra Modi and Varun Gandhi make for great prime time television. So besides giving the BJP the boot in these elections, it's time right-thinking viewers gave these shameless media pundits the thumbs-down as well.

Roger And Out

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