mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Miracle in Gujarat
Can Modi Save India?

Narendra Modi is the prime minister candidate of India’s largest opposition party, the BJP, and his campaign strategy focuses heavily on India’s ailing economy. Under Congress, the BJP’s biggest rival in national politics, the economy has stumbled, and in fiery speeches across India Modi has been arguing that only he can save the economy from further trouble. To support this claim he holds up the impressive growth of Gujarat, where he has been chief minister for 13 years. They call it the Gujarat miracle.

If you’re looking for detailed evidence of the Gujarat “miracle”, look no further than this recent piece by the Financial Times South Asia bureau chief, Victor Mallet. “The roads are wide,” Mallet writes of Modi’s Gujarat. “Electricity runs 24 hours a day. Around the Gulf of Kutch, the night sky is illuminated by the world’s largest oil refinery. The modern petrochemical plants and pumping stations handling 80 per cent of India’s oil imports seem a world away from the ramshackle infrastructure of the north Indian hinterland.”

He goes on:

At last year’s “Vibrant Gujarat” business summit, Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries and Shashi Ruia of Essar were among those promising billions of dollars of new investment in the state. Mr Ambani’s brother Anil, who heads Reliance Group, called Mr Modi “a leader among leaders, a king among kings”.

Buoyed by this support from business and by victories in three of the five state elections held at the end of last year, Mr Modi and the Hindu nationalist BJP have deliberately toned down their once vociferous support for Hindu religious causes and focused their election campaign on the economy.

Vote for the BJP, the argument goes, and Mr Modi will do for the rest of India what he has done for Gujarat during his 12 years as chief minister: encourage investment, improve roads, electricity and water supply, and create the jobs desperately needed by the 10-12m young Indians entering the workforce each year.

In the end, Mallet arrives at the same conclusion of many other India observers: under Modi, Gujarat has boomed, but there are several worrying indicators that the growth unevenly favored some groups over others and that in some important areas like literacy Gujarat lags far behind other Indian states. “Everything that’s being done in the name of development excludes the poor,” a doctor in Ahmedabad told Mallet. The inhabitants of Gujarat’s urban slums are “living in hell.”

Mallet’s article is a worthwhile read. Modi is currently the front-runner for India’s next prime minister in elections scheduled for later this year. Studying his record in Gujarat, and what he might be capable of (and not capable of) on the national stage, is vital for coming to know the man who one day might lead the world’s largest democracy.

Features Icon
show comments
  • Martin W. Lewis

    You write: “In some important areas like literacy Gujarat lags far behind other Indian states.” Not exactly. According to official statistics, Gujarat ranks 13th out of 28 Indian states in terms of literacy. Although well behind Kerala, Goa, and several small states of the far northeast (such as Mizoram), Gujarat’s literacy figures are close to those of other large, economically progressive states, such as Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, and are far above those of impoverished Bihar and UP. Gujarat also outscores Marxist-dominated West Bengal in regard to literacy.

    • ljgude

      Thanks for that insight.

  • TommyTwo

    If my memory serves, the last time the BJP was in power, the Indian economy boomed. However, the gains were not uniformly distributed (shockingly enough), and so the Indian electorate in its great wisdom decided to take growth as a given and booted out the BJP in favor of Congress, which would spread the wealth. I am disappointed that Indians now seem to have abandoned their convictions and are considering returning the BJP to power. I wonder what changed…

    • El Gringo

      Even during India’s recent economic downturn the urban middle class has continued to grow and prosper. However, over 70% of India’s population remains rural and relatively poor. This creates an interesting political incentive to continue economic growth but only so that more wealth may be extracted from the rich urban centers and transferred via subsidies to the rural poor who make up the vast majority of the electorate.

  • free_agent

    You write, ““Everything that’s being done in the name of development excludes the
    poor,” a doctor in Ahmedabad told Mallet. The inhabitants of Gujarat’s
    urban slums are “living in hell.”

    One does wonder if this is the nature of development, though. All bursts of rapid development that I know of are highly uneven, and seem to funnel the bulk of the economic improvement to a relatively small set of people who have dramatically revamped their lives. Certainly the industrialization of the late 1800s in the US was remarkably unbalanced and brought a lot of social tension.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service