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Why Markandey Katju’s assessment of Modi doesn’t make sense

After Modi’s victory, there is a lot of discussion and debate on both sides of the aisle – those who support Modi and those who don’t.  Here is one such remark by Markandey Katju

I have been asked my opinion about Mr.Modi.Till now I avoided commenting on him since I thought that my views may be misconstrued as if i wish to influence the Gujarat elections. Now that the elections are over I may speak out.

The test of every system is whether the standard of living of the masses is rising or not. Modi was no doubt successful in projecting an image of’Gujarat Shining’ under him. But the stark reality is very different.

Apart from what was done to Muslims in 2002, let us consider a few facts. (1) Child malnutrition at 48 % in Gujarat is higher than the national average, far higher than the poorest African sub Saharan countries of Somalia and Ethiopia where the rate is about 33%. When Modi was confronted with this he said that girls in Gujarat do not eat or drink milk for fear of becoming fat, the people are vegetarians, etc which is all nonsense. Should the Gujarati children eat the factories, roads and electricity Modi has created ? (2) The infant mortality rate in Gujarat is 48 per thousand, which is the 10th worst in India. (3) More than a third of Gujarat’s adult men have a body mass index of less than 18.5, the 7th worst in India (4) Gujarat has a high maternal mortality rate (5) Education, health and income levels in Gujarat place it after 8 other Indian states (6) rural poverty is 51% in Gujarat, 57% among STs, 49% among STs, and 42% among OBCs.
No doubt Modi has given huge concessions to big industrial houses, giving them cheap electricity, land, etc and has built roads, etc. But what about the standard of living of the masses ? The figures given above paint a totally different picture.

I am sure the people of Gujarat will one day learn the truth

Before we start analyzing Justice Katju’s remarks, I want to take us back to the days of Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh.  There was a euphoria about what he did.  The media loved what he did and the middle class rose substantially.  The way he promoted IT within his state and the work done in his state to outsiders – he kickstarted one of the greatest booms in any state of India.

Such has been the impact of Chandrababu’s focus on IT for AP that if one were to take a survey of the IT services companies in US today, one will find that >80% are owned by Andhraites.  It is no joke.  In a country where education triggered the IT revolution, and was spearheaded by the IITs to start off with, the Andhra Pradesh people have led and – in my view – won the game of IT business in India, WITHOUT having a single IIT, or a major IT college.  IIIT and ISB were started in Hyderabad BECAUSE of efforts of Chandrababu Naidu.

There was a “sheen” to Naidu’s work and there was a reality.  The reality was that he shook that state and its people into leading an entire revolution in corporate India after the liberalization.  No other state has been able to do that as well.

Now, I remember very distinctly that his record of the “poverty and development indices” was also challenged and downplayed.  The arguments were NOT very different from – in my view asinine – remarks like: “Should the Gujarati children eat the factories, roads and electricity Modi has created ?”

Even then such remarks used to leave me bewildered because of the absolute lack of economic sense of the analyst and it does so now as well.  Poverty is NOT eradicated by throwing tax payers money at it.  It is eradicated when growth opportunities are created in a society and opened up to all by making them distributed in every sector and every area.  From Green Energy to Automobiles to Electronics to even Agriculture and Milk sector, Gujarat is the leading state.  In speed of implementation (conception to production) of plants, Gujarat now competes with countries like Singapore.  Btw, what did Lee Kuan Yew do for Singapore if not have plants and companies set up?  And what do Singaporeans eat?  Plants and Offices?

If you want to grow a mango tree, you don’t start making mangoes in your kitchen and pasting them on a tree’s branches!  You sow a seed – of mango – and then give it enough nourishment and water and the mangoes will come eventually.

That is why Katju’s remark is of a person with very low understanding of even basics of economic life.  But we will move forward from here.

To evaluate Chandrababu Naidu, you have to assess his work and contribution AGAINST the alternative.  If you criticized him back then, you have to honestly look at what you have got BESIDES him to say whether he was good or bad.  Right?  We are talking of leaders leading a state and not someone’s life in isolation.

If you look at what has happened in AP since Naidu, you will realize the UTMOST folly of people running him down.  Since he left Hyderabad has fallen off the radar of Bill Gates et al and also out of the IT hot spots lexicon.  No one talks of Hyderabad in the same breath as Bangalore or Gurgaon.  They used to.  Not now.

That is the least of the impact of losing Naidu for AP.  The major impact has been that his successors have used the boom that was started by him to milk the real estate in every which way to make, not millions, but BILLIONS!  We all know it.

So, what has the ordinary middle class Andhraite gained?  Zilch.  What has he lost?  The future of his kids and future generation.

It is in THIS light – of a very similar case study of Chandrababu Naidu – that I would like to understand Narendra Modi’s economic accomplishments.

Development Indices: Myth, Reality or something else

First of all, to cite indices as a one time deal – like Justice Katju does – is downright mischievous!  Any statistician and economist will tell you that upfront.  Katju’s credibility goes for a six right there.  If he had, on the other hand, stated that such and such index has fallen appreciably (more that other states) since Modi took over and how he has run the state’s development into the ground, one would sit up and take notice.

Its like – I am 180 lbs and going to gym everyday.  180 lbs is high for my height, so Katju comes along and makes the conclusion – Exercising in Gym is a MYTH since the weight of this guy is so high!  Little realizing that it has fallen from 200 lbs to 180 lbs in 2 months since I started.

So, Katju’s understanding of development also is pretty shaky.

I am not sure if Katju has ever been to Gujarat, but my sense has always been that – since I did live in Gujarat for sometime and even visited some of the backward rural villages, much before Modi though – that of all the states, Gujarat and Kerala probably have the best infrastructure in the rural areas.  In fact, some of the Gujarati villages are the richest in entire Asia, specifically in districts like Kheda.  So, the stats on rural poverty in Gujarat are a bit hard to digest specially when I compare them with official stats in West Bengal, Bihar and UP.  Official Stats dont quite seem to sync with the ground reality.

I am not saying that there is no poverty in Gujarat.  But comparing it to West Bengal and Bihar is quite a stretch.

Modi as a leader

Now finally one more point.  As Naidu’s case study in AP shows, for some one to be a “good” head of state in India, it is enough that he doesn’t loot or plunder.  If he even doesn’t do anything useful but just sleeps the whole time along with his administration, the people of his state or nation will find a way to run their lives properly and make something out of it.

Take the example of IT – it was just fine until the Government stepped into it.  Now with its moronic IT Act and arbitrary actions, it is running the whole sector into the ground.

To qualify as a successful leader in today’s India, one doesn’t have to solve all the issues.  If a leader can solve even 2 out of 10 issues, s/he is great.  Look at Sheila Dixit.  What has she done?  Except for some steps that added to the city’s growth infrastructure?  Other than that, poverty is the same.  Slums still suck.  Water levels are still low.  Except people getting real estate and these companies making millions, growth hasn’t really enriched everyone.

The sad thing is that in today’s India, a great person is one who does an honest job.  Sreedharan did something simple, he just completed the project (Delhi Metro) he started.  Nothing more.  But he is the “best around”.  Everyone in the Government should have been like Sreedharan, but he becomes special because he is the ONLY one who completed the project.

Maybe Modi is tenacious and passionate about only one area of development – the industry.  Doesn’t that put him miles ahead of the rest of the pack?  A pack which opens farcical companies to loot billions of dollars??

That is why, the fact that Katju has expressed himself about Modi, without declaring Sonia and Rahul Gandhi as threats to the security and future of nation – based on the same scale of analytical indignation that he used for Modi – shows that he is simply motivated.  I mean one guy didn’t get 10 out of 100 stats right… .so he is a devil.  The other guy not only didn’t get ANY stat right, he has plundered the treasury off of billions of dollars.  And not a word of comparison?


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