Ajay Singh | September 17, 2013
Interviews with Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi are few and far between. Even those run on familiar lines. Sooner or later the interviewer pops the forbidden riots question and the interview comes to an abrupt end. This interview breaks that mould for two reasons. One, the Supreme Court, no less, is supervising some crucial investigations and Modi is facing direct heat. We cannot do any better. Two, Gujarat is getting noticed for its focus on governance and all-round development. For a magazine such as Governance Now, it becomes imperative to engage the executive head of such a state. As the democratically elected leader of Gujarat he continues to do many things that need to be scrutinised, questioned, understood. But first, a conversation has to begin. So, barely 48 hours after he was feted by India Inc at the Vibrant Gujarat summit, managing editor Ajay Singh interviewed him as Modi went around Ahmedabad flying kites with the city’s hoi polloi on Sankranti. There were no preconditions for the interview. We chose to draw him out and he obliged by sharing the secrets of how he is helming the state with the fastest economic growth which independent commentators have come to see as the model for the rest of India. Edited excerpts:
How do you feel after the Vibrant Gujarat summit?
The success of Vibrant Gujarat has created joy and enthusiasm all over the country. This has given me a lot of satisfaction and happiness. This is the fifth summit. With happiness and surprise I have to say the media has also been positive and acknowledged the success of the summit. As many as 101 countries of the world and 19 states of India were present, and representatives of industry shared the platform with diplomats from different countries. When new horizons opened in the field of science and knowledge, industrial houses showed their keenness for the welfare of the poor and downtrodden. All these will make each and every citizen of India proud.
I have often heard you talk about the development model in Gujarat. Can you explain as to what this model exactly is? What exactly are you driving at every time you talk about the Gujarat model?
Let me put things in perspective. In 1857, which is regarded as India’s first freedom struggle, about six lakh persons died fighting for the country. History is replete with the account of one shahadat (martyrdom) after another. There was no deficiency of tyag (sacrifice), tapasya (diligence) or deshbhakti (patriotism) among the people. Bhagat Singh and other revolutionaries were ready to lay down their lives for the country. But all that martyrdom came to fruition only when a Mahatma Gandhi arrived on the scene. In fact, Gandhiji made a paradigm shift in the struggle for freedom by converting it into a mass movement.
In the post-independence phase, efforts for development became solely the domain of the government. I have also effected a paradigm shift in the development strategy and converted it into a mass movement. I realised in the beginning that development strategy would succeed only if society became a stakeholder. As of now, there are over 6,00,000 check dams. All of them were constructed by the people themselves, with 40 percent of the resources for construction having been mobilised from within the society.
The same holds true for education of girls. We organise an annual function for admission of girls to schools. You may not remember much about how you were admitted to a primary school. But here, in Gujarat, we have made the admission of every child into an event celebrated by all villagers with ministers, bureaucrats and, at times, even me joining the celebration. There are many such programmes in which people are made conscious of their duties and turned into stakeholders in the process of development. This is why a BRTS succeeds in Ahmedabad. We ferry over 1,00,000 passengers daily with only 61 buses. And you get a bus after every three minutes. The BRTS system in Ahmedabad has won many international awards such as Sustainable Transport Award 2010 given by the International Jury of Transport Research Board of the US and Innovation in Public Transport Award by International Transport Forum UITP in Germany.
Similarly, when I needed land for the Sujalam Sufalam canal network farmers came forward to give their land. Within 10 days we had the land we needed for laying the canals. You will be surprised to know I am the one chief minister who advises farmers not to sell their land to industries. I tell them plainly that even if you sell the land, buy land in other areas from the compensation. I do not want my farmers to be without land. In Gujarat, we have a law which restricts non-farmers from buying agricultural land. Even if I as chief minister want to buy agricultural land, I am not entitled to buy it. So I always appeal to farmers not to let go of their land.
Is this because of the fact that the Gujarati society has a certain uniformity of psyche typical of traders?
No, psyche is not the right word to describe Gujarati society’s temperament for entrepreneurship. I would say that people of Gujarat think practically and take into account socioeconomic realities before making their choices. They are basically entrepreneurs. They are open to experimentation and new ventures. This goes beyond the psyche of traders. Gujaratis have miraculously transformed themselves from a community of traders to a community of industrialists and manufacturing community.
How did you outline your priorities when you took over?
I was given the responsibility as chief minister in October 2001, that is just 10 months after the earthquake that occurred on January 26, 2001. My first priority was reconstruction and rehabilitation of the affected areas. The situation was that, if considerable work in reconstruction was not completed by January 26, 2002, the first anniversary of the earthquake, people would have lost their faith and hope. I completed this huge task with determination. Then the next major problem was the scandal in Madhupura Mercantile Cooperative Bank for hundreds of cores. You know that in the economy of Gujarat cooperative banks play a major role. Due to the scandal in Madhupura bank, other 200 cooperative banks also had to face economic crisis. This was in one way a financial earthquake in Gujarat. In order to create faith in cooperative sector and financial markets there was immediate need to take strict action courageously. I took many such actions. I had to remove so many from the administration of these banks. I reduced the salaries to half. I put a ban on directors taking loans from the bank. I brought complete transparency in the administration of these banks and made arrangements for the online monitoring of these banks. I rescued the economy from collapsing down completely. My third priority, naturally, was to get elected as an MLA within six months of assuming office. On February 24, 2002, I was first elected as MLA and I also completed the constitutional mandate.
So you had your task cut out for your second term?
No, I had outlined my priorities in the first 100 days of becoming chief minister in 2001. Those interested in knowing my development model will understand it well if they look at the priorities set by me in the first 100 days itself. The present-day Garib Kalyan Mela, which has gained immense popularity, is nothing but an extension of Lok Kalyan Mela of those days. Similarly, in those 100 days itself, I had clearly stated the agenda of reviving the Sabarmati river.
But there seems to be a unique unanimity on development issues in Gujarat. This is not the case either in Bihar or West Bengal where setting up of industry creates uproar and protests. Have you not benefited by this social consensus?
I don’t want to comment on other states, but I can talk about Gujarat. I can tell you that to a certain degree, the social unanimity in Gujarat is the result of consistent efforts. On October 11, 2001, in the first press conference after becoming chief minister, which coincided with Jayaprakash Narayan’s birth anniversary, I unravelled a “samras gram” yojana for the panchayat polls. Over 10,000 villagers were going to panchayat polls. I declared that all villages choosing their members unanimously would be suitably rewarded by giving additional funds development. More than 45 percent of villages chose to go in for unanimous elections and each of those villages was rewarded with Rs 2 lakh in addition to the allotted development fund. I was a small boy when I heard a noted Gandhian and aide of Vinoba Bhave, Dr Dwarka Das Joshi, when he visited my native place, Vadnagar, during Bhoodan campaign. The thrust of his campaign was “don’t divide the village”. This samras yojana was aimed at putting an end to divisions within the village caused by local elections. That’s not all, as of now, 55 panchayats in the state are women panchayats where men have voluntarily surrendered their rights. That means these bodies have 100 percent women representation.
I have also appointed a senior officer who liaises with these bodies to monitor their progress. Whatever I am doing right now, you can get its glimpse in my first 100 days. That’s why, I say, judge Modi by his actions in the first 100 days.
You have even turned kite-flying into a campaign...
Kite-flying is the most secular celebration. You know, this business began with only Rs 35 crore in 2001 and has now expanded to more than Rs 500 crore and may grow up to Rs 700 crore in the near future. More than 90 percent of the people involved in making kites and accessories belong to the Muslim community. And you will find as many Muslims on the rooftops as Hindus on Makar Sankranti. Similarly, the Navratri festival is so popular in Europe and America that there is a big demand for dresses for Garba and Dandia. People are earning dollars here.
Let me take you back to our conversation about your model of development. Is your model at variance with the model envisaged by prime minister Manmohan Singh or Montek Singh Ahluwalia? They talk about growth, so do you.
Please do not confuse economic policy with economic model. The Gujarat model is entirely different. If I were to explain it, I would say that I would not let a single-pillar growth model to develop in the state. The Gujarat model is based on three pillars, including industry, services and agriculture sectors. You will get balanced development only if you focus equally on each sector. In the Gujarat model, we go the extra mile to take care of micro-management. For instance, milk production in the state has increased by 66 percent. That was possible because we have organised 2,700-odd cattle camps to treat animals and even conducted cataract operations on them. Through these camps, we have eradicated 112 diseases out of 169 diseases that afflict animals. Our regular vaccination programme for cattle has raised immunity among animals. This requires a micro-level planning. Similarly, people are raising a false alarm over selling off agricultural land to industry in Gujarat. The reality is quite different. Our area under agriculture has increased by 20 percent. This model is entirely different.
So you differ with the union government’s economic policy on certain issues?
I will explain by giving an example. I met prime minister Manmohan Singh and explained to him a model of urban development through treatment of waste water and solid waste. In my opinion, if waste water and solid waste are treated and recycled effectively, it would drastically reduce the financial cost and ecological stress on the system. The PM referred it to Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who seemed quite enthused by the model. He sent Sam Pitroda for a detailed briefing. It was done. But nothing has happened, while I am going to implement the model in 50 of Gujarat’s towns shortly. I will be outsourcing water treatment and solid waste treatment in those towns while the centre is ambivalent about it.
Nowadays there is much talk about China in Gujarat. Do you intend to create Gujarat as China within India?
This comparison is not valid. China is developing as a nation, while Gujarat is a province of India. For instance, like China, our manufacturing sector is also growing. In ceramic industry, we are the world leader. Similarly, in solar power and non-conventional energy sector, we are developing as a major player. There is no denying the fact that the next century belongs to Asia. Gujarat is only contributing in its own way to make India a growth engine of the world. I am determined to develop Gujarat as one of the biggest urban centres in Asia.
Is that why Japan partnered in the Vibrant Gujarat summit?
Japan has always been a key partner in Gujarat’s development. The growth of Gujarat is aimed at strengthening the nation and not running down others. This development model in Gujarat is only intended to catch up with pace of growth in other parts of Asia. As of now Gujarat is competing with fast growing economies of Asia. That is our objective. Otherwise we will miss the bus.
How much help do you get from the centre in your efforts?
I have been facing negativism of the centre at every front. It often appears as if they are dealing with an enemy nation when it comes to Gujarat. I would not have complained had it been for political reasons alone. But the centre’s approach with Gujarat is full of negativism which upsets me most. They hold back bills passed by an assembly with two-thirds majority. This delays certain programmes. Not just the GUJCOC bill, they have also held back our bill on education reforms. There are many such bills lying with the centre for clearance. Moreover, there have been instances where railway under-bridges have been left half-done for five years. In many cases permission for water supply to certain areas is denied as it requires laying pipes underneath railway lines. There are many examples of this nature. The benefit of JNNURM was given to the capital cities of all states, except the capital city of Gujarat, Gandhinagar.
I met many of your detractors who say that you stifle voices of dissent. They also say that there is a contrived or manufactured social consensus in Gujarat, that is you are manufacturing this consensus...
Let them come out with something new. Have you seen opposition leaders being jailed or silenced in Gujarat? On the other hand, I should be complaining about persecution as the centre has unleashed the CBI and all kinds of agencies on Gujarat and me in particular. Then what is this manufactured consensus? What is wrong if everybody agrees on development? Do you mean to say that if we have 60/40 or 80/20 consensus/dissent, it is fine, but when you have 100/0, it is wrong? This is strange logic!
Your detractors also talk about the authoritarian streak in your administration...!
As I told you earlier, they have nothing new to say. When the voices of dissent have something new to say, they will be heard. There are certain issues in which I have to take tough decisions. (Pointing towards cows) For instance, if there are cattle roaming around on the road, I have to take a tough decision to check it. Similarly, as you have seen yourself, certain demolitions were carried out on the outskirts of Gandhinagar to check encroachment. I certainly take tough decisions for the welfare of the people.
So you do not subscribe to the theory that the society in Gujarat is more receptive to your model of development than in rest of the country, particularly Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal?
This impression is utterly wrong. This country has a strength which has to be recognised.
You mean the hidden strength....
No, I mean the overt, visible strength. During the Kumbh Mela, each day a population equal to that of Australia gathers, performs religious rituals and disperses in the most disciplined manner. If policy-makers realise this strength, it will be easier to make people understand and accept their models of development.
(This interview first appeared in the February 1-15, 2011 issue of the Governance Now magazine. We are reproducing it here after the BJP named him the prime ministerial candidate.)
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