Kerala and Gujarat Models

K Vijayachandran

Many eyebrows are raised at Narendra Mody’s visit to Kerala for inaugurating 51st Sree Narayana Dharma Meemamsa Parishad at Sivagiri Madhom. Modi is on an ambitious mission of winning over the Prime Minister’s post for the BJP, which is projecting Gujarat model as the panacea for the problems facing the country, today. Ironically, his own supporters do not look at this massive propaganda build-up with any seriousness. However, it has unnerved his opponents of and the obvious reason being simple non-performance.

Modi looks at his Sivagiri mission as an act of atonement for the communal carnage in Godhra and other towns of Gujarat, an offshoot of misadventures by BJP, based on its notorious Ayodhya thesis. Gujarat has no dearth for past heroes and talented leaders starting with Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhai Patel: There are the Tatas, the Ambanis, the Sarabais and our own Amul Kurian, world famous products of Gujarat. They are great names in Indian renaissance, and as an astute politician, Modi, tries to weave all these great names into his own Gujarat model and even seek out Vivekananda, Narayana Guru and other spiritual leaders for icing his own version of an Indian panorama.

However, Modi’s spiritual pursuits are to be seen in the specific context of serious failures of the so called Gujarat model under his leadership. These failures are slowly but steadily eroding his popular base: Despite the massive propaganda about Gujarat model and Gujarat Gourav, Modi’s BJP lost two percent of popular votes and two solid seats in the last election to Gujarat Assembly, when compared to 2007 elections. And, all the scams and scandals that rock Delhi had very little negative impact on the electoral performance of Congress, led by the Manmohan-Sonia-Rahul combine.

Gujarat under decades long congress rule was a highly developed Indian state. It has inherited from British days, a large network of railways and small ports and a fairly well developed modern textile and textile engineering industry. And unlike Kerala, Gujarat was the favoured destination for massive central investments, right from the initial years of development planning in the country. Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC) started its drilling operations off the Gujarat coast in early sixties, with the help of massive technological inputs from Soviet Union, as part of India’s oil and gas exploration programme under the great leadership of Nehru and his celebrated petroleum minister, KD Malavia. These investments had simply transformed and diversified the regional economy of Gujarat and it was benefited even more during seventies, from the global boom in petroleum prices.

Gujarat was much benefited by the start up of numerous petrochemical industries downstream of the oil and gas enterprises of ONGC and the Gas Authority of India Ltd. (GAIL). Indian Petrochemical Corporation (IPCL), a giant public sector company was established in 1969 in Vadodara for the manufacture of engineering plastics, polyesters, surfactants, nylon and other basic chemicals. It was a massive pioneering public sector company, which was handed over for a song to Mukesh Ambani in 2002.

Thanks to public sector initiatives, Gujarat virtually leads the country in gas and oil production. State governments led by Congress had made large investments in the petrochemical sector, as in the Gujarat Fertilisers and Chemicals. Its initiatives in prospecting and mining of lignite, bauxite, silica and other minerals have also paid rich dividends. Gujarat accounts for 62% of the petrochemicals production in the country, produces well over 6600 chemical products and accounts for mare than half of the national output in the chemical sector. Mody magic or initiatives by private corporate sector has nothing much to do with the flourishing chemical and pharmaceutical industries of Gujarat.

Public sector initiatives in oil and gas as well as in lignite and water resources development have transformed Gujarat into an energy rich region: With an annual per capita generation of 1000 KWH per year, Gujarat has a big lead over other states, with regard to power development. With 10 gas based power stations 11 thermal power plants, 4 hydro electric power stations and one nuclear power plant, Gujarat is a net exporter of electric power. This situation has nothing to do with the so called Modi model development of Gujarat.

Performance of the massive investments made by Modi Government in solar power plants is yet to be evaluated and audited: There are too many imponderables regarding this adventure based on imported equipments and systems and using massive foreign loans. The Gujarat Maritime Board as well as the big initiatives on port development and ship building front by the Modi Government has not delivered the desired results. The big Road Shows organised by it for attracting FDI to Gujarat was not a roaring success.

However, Gujarat is, today, blessed with the waters of Naramda: Modi had done well in completing the various components of this river valley project on schedule, despite the noisy resistance put in by Narmada Bachavo Andolan (NBA) of Medha Patkar & Co. Narmada is the fifth largest river in the country and it was the dream project of Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first President of our Union Republic. Bulk of the Narmada basin, nearly eighty percent of it, is in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat shares the balance with Maharashtra. It took long years to settle the claims and counter claims of the riparian states and Naramda tribunal gave its final verdict only in 1979.

Then, there were the prolonged opposition by NBA which could muster the support of even World Bank and the saintly celebrity of Madhya Pradesh, Baba Amte. Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd. (SSNNL) was incorporated as a public limited company in April 1988 by Gujarat Government, when Congress was in power. The Project was seen as the future life line of Gujarat by all political parties and when Modi took over as Chief Minister in 2001, he continued the policy of fighting NBA to the finish, and this policy had the support of the entire people of Gujarat.

Modi is much respected by the people of Gujarat for the firm support he gave to this Eight Billion Dollar project, that could irrigate 19 Lakh hectares of land benefiting over ten lakh farmers, generate 1450 MW of electric power, and provide drinking water to 9633 villages and 139 towns and benefiting 290 lakh people. Narmada project is now part of the life and culture of Gujarat and will continue to play bigger and bigger role in the regional economy. Doomsayers of NBA were rejected by Gujarat society at large, and the people affected or displaced by the project duly compensated and rehabilitated by SSNNL.

Despite the warnings by NGOs and environmentalists, Narmada project is the backbone of the regional economy, today. This developmental experience of Gujarat is in sharp contrast with the Kerala experience of mismanaging its splendid water resources. Silent Valley project was kept in abeyance for twenty-five years in 1982, as recommended by MGK Menon Commission that granted the benefit of doubt to the objections raised by environmental fundamentalists.

Even after keeping this 120 MW project frozen for thirty long years, neither the Left nor the Right in Kerala politics has dared to take up the issue of reviving it. After the Silent Valley fiasco, Kerala Government has not pursued seriously any new hydro-electric project. Water resources of Kerala, with large irrigation potential, and capable of generating some three to four thousand MW of electric power at very low costs, remain unutilised, all in the name of forest conversation and environmental protection. But steady degradation of environment and wide spread destruction of forests is a common experience, today, all over Kerala!

Diverse experience of Gujarat and Kerala with regard to the development and use of natural resources, especially water resources, are worth analysing. Gujarat could manage on its own the massive Narmada Valley Project, challenging even the global environmental movement supported by World Bank. The approach of Kerala Government to Silent Valley and other river valley projects was tellingly different. This deference, in my view, has nothing much to do with ideology or politics: But, it has everything to do with the capacity of state governments to govern.

Cadres of Gujarat Administrative Service are equally competent as those of the Indian Administrative Service, on many fronts, for a variety of historical and administrative reasons: they are possibly far more loyal to the State and local political leadership than IAS cadres. This might be true even with regard to several other states; but situation in Kerala is vastly different. In contrast, IAS Cadres in Kerala look to Central Government for patronage and survival and those of the state level service, including GOs and NGOs look at local political leaders and parties for salvation. What we have in Kerala, today, is a regime operated and maintained by big and small organisations of clerks, with allegiance to all sorts of sectarian politics.

It is often theorised that Kerala has achieved a far better quality of life compared to Gujarat and several other Indian states, thanks to higher government outlays on social welfare. But, this has nothing to do with ground realities. The real difference is: unlike Gujarat, people in Kerala have liberated themselves in good measure, from the tyranny of feudal cultural values.

People in Kerala are deeply conscious about their democratic rights: Everyone belongs to one organisation or the other, as part of a collective existence. Almost all trades and professions in Kerala have their class organisations that cut across the narrow barriers of caste and religion. Kerala media use this situation in their own self-interest: But our political parties are yet to discover its great secular potential; cultural, political, and developmental.