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.