By Amrita Roy:
Dear Mr Modi,
I was never a NaMo supporter. Neither was I a Congressi nor a blind AAP supporter. I just didn’t fall for your party’s marketing blitzkrieg and chose to make sense of facts and evidence that I found on the Internet and in books. Very frankly, I am one of the few people who aren’t that pleased with the landslide majority that you and your party, the BJP, has gotten. But I also do realize that this is a mandate that has been given to you by a huge section of the Indian voting population (that is if you consider 31% to be huge) and I shall accept this decision with grace. However, there are a few concerns I have and I hope that you address them in your five year tenure as the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy. Many people wish that you replicate the Gujarat model all over the country. I would ask you to do this with restraint. There are problems in the Gujarat model of development, and as an Indian who loves her nation, I do not wish to see those problems prevailing all across the nation.
I accept the fact that Gujarat has had a much higher economic growth rate (though similar to some other big states) at 10.1% from 2004 — 2012 when compared to the national average growth rate of 7.6%. You and your government in Gujarat has also reduced the red tape which facilitates more firms doing business in a hassle free environment. This is great and I wish that you implement some policies that will help increase our national economic growth rate as well. Gujarat has also done quite well on the agricultural front due to the Jyotigram Yojana which ensures 24X7 power supply to most villages, good roads that improve access to markets, and innovations in irrigation. I would like to see policies of this kind implemented in other parts of India too. However, since this will be accompanied by the need of fewer farmers for agricultural produce, I wish and hope that you work to create good mobility for the transition of these people into the industrial sector.
However, in the industrial sector itself, there are certain issues that concern me as an Indian. While neither you nor the companies in question have admitted to this, it is rather evident that certain companies have unduly benefited in many ways, one of which happens to be through heavy subsidization of land. A report published in March 2014 in Forbes shows that Adani has got about 73,500,000 square meters of land in Gujarat under 30 year renewable leases for as less as one U.S. cent per square meter (about half a Rupee per square meter). Some of this land was sold to other companies at a rate of 11 USD per square meter (650 Rupees per square meter), and furthermore, over 12,000,000 square meters of this land was grazing land that shouldn’t have been used for industrial purposes anyway, under law. As an Indian, I do not wish to see similar cases of “land-looting” all across the country. Also, it is known that smaller industries and companies have not benefited in your tenure as CM, which is seen in the declining rate of small businesses in Gujarat. Sanjay Jagnani, president of the Federation of Surat Textile Traders Association, says that there is hardly any specific government help for small-and medium- scale factories. This concerns me. In a world that is riding on businesses created through path breaking innovation and the vision of a few people (example — IKEA, H&M, Facebook, Twitter), I am not very hopeful about the future of the nation. I hope that the high economic growth rate that you promise to provide our nation with will include economic growth of not only the owners and families of big businesses but also the owners of small businesses, farmers and other people. I hope that you will celebrate the vision and dedication of the few and provide them with the governmental aide that is needed to become a successful enterprise.
Moving on to other social factors, Gujarat hasn’t performed too well under your “decisive governance.” Here are some of the key concerns I have —
Gujarat’s expenditure on education is about 13% than the national average (which itself is startlingly low when compared to many other countries). I think most people would agree that education is one of the key pillars that help in the development of a human and it concerns me to see that the government doesn’t spend enough to ensure that the basic fundamental right to education reaches the youth. This lack of expenditure has many trickle down effects on the rest of the education system. In a 2011-12 survey, the DISE found that the student-teacher ratio for higher secondary and intermediate education was 54, compared to the national average of 32. And according to a 2013 DISE report, while Gujarat’s enrollment ratio is 85.3% at primary level, it plummets to 48.8% at the secondary level. Overall, the dropout rate in schools is 58% compared to the national average of 49%. Regardless of the high percentage of economic growth, with less quality educators and less students opting for education, I see a rather bleak future for our country. I hope that you and your worthy ministers work together on this problem and provide better education to the youth of the country.
According to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for 2012, the shortage of doctors at Public Health Centres in Gujarat was 34% while the national figure is 10%. This is a rather large gap. Gujarat’s infant mortality rate (IMR) was 38 in 2012, lower than the national average of 42 but much higher than states such as Tamil Nadu, 21, and Maharashtra, 25. Maternal mortality rate (MMR), or the number of women dying from childbirth per 10,000 births, is 122 for Gujarat, which is unfortunately much higher than the rates of states like Kerala, 66 and Maharashtra, 87. I have read many reports which showcase your prowess in privatizing healthcare in Gujarat which has led to the creation of some top class hospitals and other medical facilities in the state which has led to many people coming from other states and even from outside India for medical care to Gujarat. And yet I am rather shocked that this development of infrastructure in the medical sector hasn’t helped the very people of Gujarat! What is the point of having good hospitals in Gujarat if the people of the state themselves have not benefitted? I hope that as the Prime Minister you can ensure the people of India that not only will they see good hospitals but also get the appropriate treatment they need and reduce the rates of infant and maternal mortality (and definitely not increase it to the levels seen in Gujarat).
3) Right To Information
With all the anti-corruption crusading that has taken over the country over the last few years, I am rather shocked at the fact that the post of Lokayukta has been empty since 2003. And statistically put, Gujarat has only 5% of the country’s population and yet it has seen 22% of the murders and a whopping 20% of the assaults on RTI activists in the country. Gujarat also has only two RTI Commissioners when compared to eight and nine in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu respectively. When your party got a landslide victory on May 16th, many of the top brass of BJP came out to say that people have voted against corruption. And yet I fail to see how the state of RTI and Lokayukta in Gujarat are anything but huge representations of corruption. I hope that in your five year term, you do not turn to silencing other RTI activists or turn the Lokayukta into a toothless body. They represent key checks and balances in our political system which are essential as India is a democracy not an autocracy.
The 2002 riots are hard to forget. In defense, your party members and your supporters tend to present rather feeble arguments of the 1984 riots and the recent Muzaffarnagar riots. I wholeheartedly agree that 1984 and Muzaffarnagar are heinous crimes that have been committed by political parties in our country. But so is 2002, which falls under a time period when you governed the state. Your supporters also present the argument that you were given a clean chit by the SIT, but I find a clean chit given solely on the basis of “lack of evidence” rather difficult to believe, especially after 2007 when you appointed Maya Kodnani as a minister even though it was known that she had lead a violent mob in the Naroda-Patiya area of Ahmedabad. But I also acknowledge the fact that not all of it was your fault and that over the last 12 years you must have learnt and practiced better governance. And thus I haven’t named this topic as communalism but rather marginalization. While you may say that Congress hasn’t done any better for Muslims either, it is rather unfortunate that 42.4% of Muslims in urban Gujarat are poor when compared to 33.9% of Muslims in urban India. And even after these facts, you have opposed a national plan of 2007 to set aside a 15% development fund for Muslims based on the rationale that it will threaten the “social fabric of the nation.” You also refused to implement another program that would provide 53,000 scholarships to Muslim students in Gujarat when it is a known fact that in Gujarat, 75% (79% for the rest of state) of school-age Muslims are enrolled in schools but only 26% (41% for the rest of the state) end up finishing their schooling. A recent Times of India article summarizes the paradox of the Muslim in Gujarat: pro-business leadership has created opportunities, but religious prejudice and segregation are deeply, and even legally, engrained in the system.
I have heard your speeches at your political rallies which attracted scores of people. You primarily talk about development in those speeches. I would very humbly like to stress that the definition of development is “sustained, concerted actions that promote the standard of living and economic health of a specific area.” While you might have been successful to an extent in the economic health department, a lot of work needs to be done on the standard of living which not only includes disposable income but also life expectancy, literacy, healthcare, freedom and equality. Gujarat has the highest prevalence of hunger and lowest human development indices among states with comparable per capita income. I would also ask you to be a little more sensitive while dealing with important issues like malnutrition and not claim that it is due to “figure-consciousness” but rather acknowledge the more serious issues of low wage rates, malfunctioning nutrition schemes and lack of sanitation. More than 65% of households defecate in the open in Gujarat which has resulted in high levels of jaundice, diarrhoea and malaria. While these are the problems I have listed and many more that I have forgotten to mention (like caste, creed, sexuality, ethnicity etc.), I have hope that you will live up to the promises that you have made to the people and also work upon these issues of concern which if combined with your pro-business schemes, will hopefully make India a better country.
As the PM of our country, please ensure that the money does not come at the cost of the people or freedom.
Best wishes and with the highest regards,
A concerned (yet hopeful) Indian citizen