While the BJP and Modi rode on the success of the Gujarat model in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, economists have long argued that Gujarat was a relatively well developed state.

Niha Masih
Hindustan Times, Bharuch/ Dahod
A neonatal care ward of a hospital in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.
A neonatal care ward of a hospital in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. (Siddharaj Solanki/HT File Photo)

At the Ankleshwar Industrial Estate in Gujarat’s Bharuch district, Pradeep Patel cannot stop gushing about Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“If it wasn’t for his development work, I would have ended up as a farmer,” says the 39-year-old B.Com graduate working as an accountant at a chemical factory.

The Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) estate spreads over 1,600 hectares with 1,800 production units — a majority of which are chemical and pharmaceutical factories.

“I recently bought a 4 bedroom house on loan in the city — something I wouldn’t have dreamt of coming from a village,” says Pradeep. Ankleshwar is one of the several industrial hubs that are visible markers of the ‘Gujarat model of development’ and people like Pradeep, its direct beneficiaries.

While the BJP and Modi rode on the success of the Gujarat model in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, economists have long argued that Gujarat was a relatively well developed state when Modi came to power in 2001 and that there is little evidence pointing to an accelerated growth during his tenure.

HT travelled to two diametrically opposite districts — highly industrialised Bharuch and tribal Dahod (neither are outliers) to track the successes and failures of Gujarat.

Pradeep says, under chief minister Modi, first came roads linking his village, and as connectivity improved, so did his prospects. He enrolled into a city college and got a steady job. But data suggests that this may not be the rule. Even in an industrialised district like Bharuch, only one-third workers found jobs for most of the year, according to the 2011 census.

Perception, thus, has played an important role in BJP’s political success. Pradeep admits that some of the work predates Modi — like setting up of the Ankleshwar estate. “Whatever the condition was — good or bad – there was an improvement under Modi,” he says.

The other side

Two hundred kilometres from Ankleshwar, at Devgadh Baria in Dahod district, there is less to show for the state’s economic progress. At the civil hospital, cries of young children fill the child malnutrition treatment centre (CMTC). The centre treats severely malnourished children and gets about 5 new cases every day.

“The problem of malnutrition is so acute that several children who show improvement after our 14-day programme have to come back to repeat the course,” says Tadvi Ajit, a nurse at the centre.

But when it comes to malnutrition, both Dahod and Bharuch show a similar propensity — their figures topping the all-India numbers.

Travelling to the interior villages further reveals the severity of the problem. In Sagtala, 25 km from Devgadh Baria, two of Raveenaben’s four children are malnourished. Her youngest daughter Veena, now three, was diagnosed with severe anaemia when she was barely 6 months old.

At the age of one, Veena was among eight children from the village admitted in the CMTC programme. But her family didn’t complete the 14-day course. Raveenaben had to look after her other children and work in the fields so making the 45-minute daily journey to the city was not possible.

The first point of contact for health services in the village – a sub-centre, was recently constructed but is not functional yet. The anganwadi centre that provides hot meals to children between 3-6 years of age is shut on the day we visit.

The second rung is the primary health centre (PHC) that caters to a cluster of villages. Amongst other things, its field workers are supposed to track and ensure treatment of children suffering from malnutrition.

The day HT visited the nearby PHC, the staff there was leaving for the wedding of the doctor in-charge, in whose absence the pharmacist was treating the patients.

Dileep Mavlankar, director, Indian Institute of Public Health in Gandhinagar, says the problem is systemic.

“If you lose a war will you blame the soldiers or the general? If services are not reaching, the government has to take responsibility. In Gujarat, while there has been an improvement in health indicators since the 60s, there is under-investment and under-management in social sectors like health and education,” he says.

The reduction in malnutrition figures in Gujarat over the last ten years, however, has been slow compared to the all-India average, according to the latest National Family Health Survey.

The disparities remain largely similar at the inter-state level as well. During Modi’s tenure, Gujarat performed well on economic indicators but lagged behind on infant mortality or sex ratio.

Gujarat’s place among states

Rank of the state under CM Narendra Modi according to the Reserve Bank of India

Development economist, Reetika Khera, who teaches at IIT-Delhi, says, “Gujarat is a ‘model’ for what not to do: a good development strategy must not exclusively focus on economic growth at the cost of social investments.”

The political front

The opposition has been on the offensive over the BJP’s “I am development, I am Gujarat” slogan citing the state’s poor social indices. This week, Congress vice-president, Rahul Gandhi questioned Modi over Gujarat’s high malnutrition and infant mortality figures.

Three of the four small factory owners that HT spoke to in Ankleshwar, including a district level BJP office-bearer, admitted there are gaps in the Gujarat story.

“Gujarat was already a developed state when Modi came to power. Ease of doing business only exists on paper. A lot of the credit for development goes to industry owners, not the government,” said one of them, citing grievances like water shortage, cap on expansion of units and high municipal taxes.

They say they will still vote for the BJP but not for its “vikas”. The owner of a chemical plant says, “The one good thing the BJP ensured is the atmosphere of industrial peace.”

Raveenaben, who is a member of a local women’s collective, is similarly disenchanted. This time she will vote for the Congress. “Service delivery has improved but that is not because of the government but due to our own initiatives and struggles.”

And in this commonality between the two ends of the spectrum lies the real Gujarat story.