Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Modi's Vibrant Gujarat Story: Propaganda vs Fact

By Raza Elahi

The recent article in a national newspaper by a Columbia University professor about the economic advances of Gujarat under the chief ministership of Narendra Modi has overlooked many hard realities that may not suit the later at a time when he is seeking votes.

Though Modi and his PR exercise have been successful in projecting the positive economic indicators during his tenure since 2001, yet it is also a fact that Gujarat was a much better state before Modi. The state has, in fact, slipped many notches in various economic and social parameters since Modi came to power.

During the period 1960–90, Gujarat had already established itself as a leader in various industrial sectors – textiles, chemicals, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, engineering, cement, dairy and gems & jewellery, etc. The Congress’ economic liberalisation policy further boosted the state’s economy. Between 1994-2001, Gujarat's state domestic product grew at 10%-13%, much higher than the all-India average. In manufacturing sector during 2000-01, Gujarat's share at the national level was an impressive 28.71%. All these happened before Modi took the charge of the state.

But Modi’s Gujarat is now ranked sixth among major states in terms of per capita income (PCI). In 2011, its PCI was Rs 63,996, after Haryana (Rs 92,327), Maharashtra (Rs 83,471), Tamil Nadu (Rs 72,993), Uttarakhand (Rs 68,292) and Punjab (Rs 67,473).

In terms of annual rate of growth, Gujarat under Modi regime (2001-10) stands third at 8.68% after Uttarakhand (11.81%) and Haryana (8.95%)during the period.

On industrial growth front, too, Gujarat with 12.65% growth between 2005-09 lagged behind smaller states like Orissa (17.53%) and Chhattisgarh (13.3%) during the period.

There are many more indicators like malnutrition and literacy rate, where ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ story looks hollow. According to latest government data, about half of Gujarat's children under five are short for their age or have stunted growth. Modi, who is aspiring to become prime minister, recently gave a childish and immature reasoning of ‘beauty conscious’ behind this problem. Does anyone know in which part of the world five-year-old girls are known to be figure-conscious?

Further, the argument that Gujarat’s progress in literacy rate, compared to its low literacy level during Independence, looks more impressive than that of even Kerala is another example of good PR skills. The truth, however, remains that in literacy rate, Gujarat today remains below Kerala and Maharashtra.

The Gujarat's growth story as propagated by Modi and his cronies deserve to be countered as it is not the story of all-inclusive. How can one beat the drum of his own success when many sections of the society -- tribals, dalits, Muslims, women and farmers -- suffer due to his government’s indifference?

Despite all the claims, it is a truth nothing but a truth that the 10 most backward talukas in the state are the tribals. Apply any indicators and parameters and you can find that the tribal regions and people there are the most backward in Gujarat.

What Mr Modi’s slate say about the suffering of cotton farmers? The Maharashtra government declared a package of Rs 2,000 crore for the cotton-growing farmers, but the Gujarat government’s silence on helping them deserves to be condemned. Prior to Modi, the state government used to purchase cotton from the farmers through state federations. But Modi government has closed down all the federations.

The conditions of women, too, in the state have deteriorated during the last decade. According to a recent report, the percentage of women suffering from anemia in the state has risen from 46.3% in 1999 to 55.5% in 2004.

While there is not much development in tribal areas of Gujarat, many Muslim pockets in the state lack even basic amenities. The Muslims claim whether it is the state’s biggest Muslim pocket Juhapura in Ahmedabad or Muslim localities in smaller towns of Nadiad and Godhra, all are being denied safe drinking water, street lights, drainage facilities and good roads. Many of them believe that the state government discriminates these pockets in opening up schools and dispensaries.

Post-Godhra riots, Muslims are still struggling to regain some space in the state’s socio-economic fabric. The government’s inability to protect them and their businesses during the riots is still fresh in their mind. Prior to the riots, Muslims dominated the state’s textile, diamond cutting & polishing, pharmaceuticals and processing industries etc. But their share in these manufacturing and organised sectors in the state is now just 13%, compared to all-India level of 21%. The Gujarat figure is much lower than Maharashtra (25%) and West Bengal (21%).

Does Modi not bother about their safety and growth? Is he simply trying to rehash the pages of history to project himself as “Vikas Purush”.

The recent court verdict on Gujarat riots and the accusation from the likes of ex-cop Sanjeev Bhatt about the state government’s role in perpetrating the riots in 2002, have embarrassed Modi on many occasions. Modi is, perhaps, trying to omit that blot from his head.

The best description of Mr Modi’s recent condition comes from an old village man, whom I met recently. He said that the post-Godhra riots had put the pitcher of sins on Modi’s head. The life sentence to his former minister Maya Kodnani in the Naroda Patiya riots case has now smashed the pitcher on his head.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Manmohanomics is back in form

By Raza Elahi

Manmohan Singh is back in form. Ready to pull the bouncers straight behind the ropes. He played exemplary well as finance minister in the 1990s; he remained unbeaten as prime minister during UPA I. He brought cheers to his fans when he opened up the innings again for UPA II. But the continuous bouncers and yorkers from its allies and the Opposition put him in the back foot. Though he ducked and defence many of the them, yet he was not able to score. When the cry for fours and sixers got loud and louder, he thought time had come for do or die. Now, with his changed stance he is set to regain his lost grounds.

The confidence is now seen. Shrugging of protests, his government notified the rules to permit foreign chains into the multi-brand retail segment on Thursday, the day of a nationwide shutdown organised by some of its allies and the Opposition. Besides FDI in multi-brand retail, his other recent bold measures -- like opening up aviation sector, cap on subsidised LPG cylinders -- will certainly revive the economy.

The opponents of FDI in multi-brand retail are reacting in the same manner as vampires react to garlic. It is laughable to hear from them that the FDI in multi-brand retail will be the death knell for petty shopkeepers across the country and will create unemployment. They also argue that farmers will be exploited by foreign retailers. All these are myths.

The political parties like the BJP and the Trinamool Congress are opposing the move spreading these myths just to get their vote-bank strong. While the Trinamool is claiming itself as messiah of garibs, the BJP pretends to be the protectors of banias (who mostly own small kirana shops across the country).

It may not be wrong to remind them that every move of economic reform introduced by the Congress in the country was opposed either by the Left or the right-wing parties or the so-called Third alternatives. Some of them even opposed the introduction of computers. They cited the danger of jobs being destroyed, but see how computerisation has changed the nation.

When the multi-national companies (MNCs) and foreign banks where allowed in the country, the same people propagated the wrong slogans of foreign competition wiping out Indian businesses. Today, the difference is seen. The entry of MNCs and foreign banks has lifted the spirit and work culture of our domestic banks and offices. These critics have been proved wrong all the time. The Indian economy has grown against all the odds.

Coming back on the recent opposition of the retail FDI, I can say with 100% guarantee that the entry of Walmart and Carrefour etc is not going to affect our neighbourhood kiranas. Whether it is Goyalji in Delhi or Gopalji in Muzaffarpur or Govardhanji in South, all of them will thrive in the growing economy because they offer household items on credit to their customers, do home delivery of even single item even at odd hours or at short notices (as most of the Indian housewives have the habit of missing something very important when they enter into the kitchen).

Secondly, all these multi-brand retailers are not going to open their stores in every nook and corner of the country (there are certain government guidelines for opening up stores for them). Thirdly, if certain percent of our population prefer to buy from Walmart or Carrefour even then the remaining percent of population will be in crores, who will continue to depend on the local kiranas.

Further, there have been many instances reported from Punjab and Haryana that the middlemen are making money by giving farmers a very low price for their produce compared to the price the later sell in the market or wholesale mandi. With the entry of foreign retailers farmers can directly sell to them and will certainly get better prices. The opening of foreign retail stores will also create more job openings. So, none of the opponents’ arguments have any merit in them.

The government has done exceedingly well by giving a full page advertisement in many of our national dailies making people aware of the benefit of its retail FDI decision.

Let's hope Manmohan Singh's late attacking innings may put India on a stronger economic note.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Those who praise PV should also remember his blunders

By Raza Elahi

The other day an edit page article in a leading national daily praised former prime minister PV Narasimha Rao for his good governance and the economic reforms, which have built a new India.The gentleman, who is a professor of economics at Columbia University, in the article, A forgotten revolutionary, even thought of conferring Bharat Ratna on Rao.

But while singing the paeans for Rao, the gentleman has forgotten that Rao's term also saw the destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya. It was Rao's incompetence to stop the destruction that triggered one of the worst Hindu-Muslim riots in the country since its Independence.

How can a 'good governance' tag be given to a person who being a prime minister remained incommunicado during the six long hours that took for the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

While describing the event, former union minister and his partyman Arjun Singh in his posthumous autobiography — A Grain of Sand in the Hourglass of Time - has written that "after the news of the Babri Masjid demolition came, Rao, then Prime Minister, had locked himself in his room and the scene resembled the infamous spectacle of Nero fiddling while Rome burnt."

Reflecting on his years as the finance minister in Rao's government, Manmohan Singh once told a senior journalist that the liberalisation process initiated in 1991 ground to a halt after "politics took over on December 6, 1992", the day Hindu fanatics demolished the Babri mosque. "After that it was just politics that was on everybody's mind. And an important matter like cutting the fiscal deficit did not receive much importance as it should have been."

Further, giving full credit to Rao for economic reforms is a hype created by a bogey of anti-Nehru-Gandhi family. It was Rajiv Gandhi’s vision of a 21st century India and his imprint on economic policies that were followed by Rao from 1991 to 1996.

Rajiv, who roped in technocrat Sam Pitroda as his technology advisor during his prime ministerial tenure (1984-89) and heralded the telecom revolution in the country, had a bagful of reform initiatives for his second innings. But fate cut the thread of his life and Rao became prime minister. Rao simply implemented the promises the former had made in the 1991 Congress manifesto.

One should also not forgot that the Rao tenure was chequered with his close relationship with Chandra Swami -- who had been exposed as a major international racketeer-- and the stock market's biggest-ever scam architect Harshad Mehta's revelation that he had given a suitcase containing a crore in cash to the Prime Minister.

Rao also did his best to weaken his party by not listening to senior leaders. He was definitely the chief architect of the downfall of the Congress. After the 1996 general elections Rao retained the leadership of the Congress party until late 1996 after which he was replaced by Sitaram Kesri. Many in the Congress felt Rao had kept an authoritarian stance on both the party and his government, which led to the departure of many prominent Congress leaders during his reign. It was only after Sonia Gandhi took the reign of the party, the Congress once again gained grounds.

Many of us have also not forgotten that Rao failed during the 1984 Sikh riots when as home minister he couldn't protect the Sikhs. And to top it all, it is really shameful when one comes to know that Rao as a home minister had no sympathy for the victims of Bhopal gas tragedy. It is alleged that union home secretary R D Pradhan, upon the instructions of Rao, the then union home minister, telephoned the chief secretary of Madhya Pradesh to ensure Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson’s release on bail following his arrest after the tragedy.

Those who praise PV should also remember his blunders.

(E-mail: elahi.raza82@gmail.com)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Prez Poll: Cong Should Make Consensus on Kalam

By Raza Elahi

After the hard-fought recently-concluded Assembly polls, which pushed the Congress in the back seat, another round of tough battles is in store for the party. Elections of President, Vice-President and 58 Rajya Sabha MPs are all lined up one after another, but the ruling party at the Centre is in no position to have its sole say.

Will the party be able to find consensus candidates for President and Vice-President posts, or will it concede defeat or will it have some facing solution?

WHAT WILL HAPPEN IN RS Polls?: Election for 59 RS seats that fall vacant in April is scheduled for March 20. The six-year tenure of Deputy Speaker in the House K Rahman Khan also comes to an end on April 2. Given the UPA’s numerical strength in the Rajya Sabha, where it finds itself in a minority, it is unlikely that the ruling coalition would be able to have its way, unless SP bails it out(among the seats falling vacant include 10 from UP).

A DALIT TO BE THE NEXT V-P?: While the vice-president Hamid Ansari’s five-year term is going to end in August (a month after the term of the President ends), his successor will depend on who becomes the President. If a Muslim becomes a President, then the V-P's post is likely to go to a Dalit or vice versa.

WHO'LL BE THE NEXT PRESIDENT?: With UPA having just 30% vote share in the electoral college of the presidential election (The NDA has 28% while others command 42% of the vote share) due in July, it is certain that there's going to be a long drawn battle/negotiations among political parties before anyone settles in at Rashtrapati Bhawan.

There are reports coming in media that sympathisers of vice-president Hamid Ansari have begun hectic lobbying for fielding him as a candidate. According to them, he stands a good chance of emerging a consensus choice because, being a Muslim, he is likely to be backed by both Left parties and the Samajwadi Party that now commands a chunk of votes in the electoral college. But being seen as Congress man, Ansari's role on the last day of Lok Pal debate in the RS and may not go down well within many parties. The other names -- Pranab Mukherjee, Gopal Krishan Gandhi, Karan Singh (by the way his name crops up everytime during President & V-P elections, but gets eliminated soon), Meira Kumar and Sushil Kumar Shinde -- are all set to make their way out of the race.

WHAT'S THE OPTION FOR CONGRESS?: There is one name which is seen as NDA candidate, but SP and Trinamool may not oppose, and which Congress should propose is former President APJ Abdul Kalam. He was an NDA candidate (with the backing of SP and BSP) in his first stint in the Rashtrapati Bhawan. In getting Kalam in is a better option for the Congress this time, than facing defeat in the Prez poll. Congress may also find itself more comfortable with Kalam rather than any other NDA or SP-sponsored candidate. If this time Congress proposes his name, NDA may have no problem, and SP and Trinamool may also not ignore him because of his clean image and also being a Muslim candidate.

WHY KALAM AGAIN?: People of the country will certainly not ask why Kalam again because of his magnificent first innings. There is another reason too: Kalam's second innings will also save a good amount of tax-payers money, which the State spends on a former President.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

UP Muslims Play Their Cards Right

By Raza Elahi

The 2012 UP polls saw a usual scramble among all parties to woo Muslims, who can tilt the balance in 140 of the total 403 assembly constituencies. Unlike previous elections (say post-1989), when Muslim votes got divided, this time the community has voted sensibly. And thus the outcome: 69 Muslim MLAs, highest since the Independence.

Out of the 69 Muslim candidates who won, 43 belong to the SP. The party had fielded 78 Muslim candidates. The BSP, which gave tickets to 85 Muslim candidates, could get 16 seats. Among other Muslim MLAs, two belong to Congress, 3 to Peace Party (of Dr Mohd Ayub), 2 to Quami Ekta Dal (floated by Afzal Ansari) and three Independents.

RESULTS PATTERN: The Muslims largely voted in favour of SP, which helped the party to comfortably cross the magic figure. Results of the 140 constituencies, where Muslims are over 30% of population, show that SP won 72 seats, while BSP and Congress got 27 and 11 seats respectively.

INTERESTING MISS: Muslim-dominate Saharanpur failed to send any Muslim MLA to the Assembly. Mohd Umar, son-in-law of Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid Syed Ahmed Bukhari, lost from Behat in Saharanpur district.

QUICK COMMENT: Muslim voters in UP have realised the strength of their votes. They have preferred SP over Congress and BSP in a larger perspective, but also voted constituency-wise to increase their Muslim representatives in the Assembly. They have shown that no party can take them for granted.

LESSON & CHALLENGE: It is a lesson for Congress that 'crocodile tears' won't work and challenge for SP that promises are not made to break.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Poll Pilgrimage of Senior Editors

By Raza Elahi

During the poll season, you must have read many columns and seen TV programmes based on the journalists' tour to the poll-bound areas. Each journalist do his/her reporting in individual capacity for the organisation he/she works. But very few know that for the last one and a half decade some of the country's best-known journalists and columnists (around 15-20) travel in a group to check the pulse of the voters and obviously to predict the people's verdict.
At the end of every trip, the group does a poll. The person whose prediction comes close to the actual results of the election is declared winner.

The group, which include Shekhar Gupta (editor-in-chief, The Indian Express),Arindam Sengupta (executive editor, The Times of India), Radhika and Prannoy Roy (NDTV founders), Columnists Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Surjit Bhalla, former Businessweek journalist Manjeet Kripalani, former BBC journalist Sanjeev Srivastava and psephologist Dorab Sopariwala etc, has covered every Lok Sabha poll and important assembly elections - 19 trips so far.

As per the wishes of the organisers, the tours and information about fellow-travellers rarely get mentioned in media. However, recently, a newspaper report carried some interesting experiences of these high-profile journalists when they went out together on poll pilgrimages, but the reporter's efforts to find out frequent winners among those high-profile journalists were not successful.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

UP Muslims Should Think Before They Vote

By Raza Elahi

As all the parties are busy in wooing Muslim voters in Uttar Pradesh, it is time for the community to think and value the importance of their votes.

It is an irony that Muslim votes, which are around 16% in the state, get divided among the three main parties -- BSP, SP and Congress. There are just 55 Muslim MLAs in 403-seat UP assembly, despite the fact that Muslim votes play a major role in around 125 Assembly constituencies of which 80 seats have more than 20% of Muslim votes.

Although it is too early to predict the UP Assembly polls results, yet it is almost clear that there will be a hung Assembly. No party will likely to be in a position to form government on its own. As of now, two post-poll combinations are emerging and Muslims should also think in term of those combinations before they vote.

As Mayawati is losing ground -- courtesy scams, corruption charges and anti-incumbency factor -- she may not hesitate in joining hands with other parties after the result to remain in power. Congress and SP will certainly not go with BSP. This will leave Mayawati of no choice but to join hands with BJP. And the one likely post-poll combination is BSP-BJP combine with support of (if required) independents and other smaller parties.

SP, the other main party in the state, is leaving no stone unturned to encash all the anti-BSP plank with its strong party cadre. However, SP may also fall short of the magic figure.

The most interesting part of this Assembly poll is to see how Congress performs. Banking on Rahul Gandhi’s magic and his Muslim-Jat-Kurmi vote-bank innovation, Congress is certain to regain its lost glory, but again it also can't form the government on its own. In that case, the Congress will be more comfortable with SP rather than BSP in sharing the power in the state. It will also give Congress the support of SP MPs at the Centre. So, the second likely post-poll combination is Congress-RLD and SP combine with support of (if required) some fringe players.

Now, Muslim should vote in accordance with two things -- first, which of these two combinations suit them, and second how the number of Muslim MLAs can be increased.

It is clear that in most of the Muslim dominated constituencies there are at least two Muslim candidates fighting on the tickets of any of the four major parties -- BSP, SP, Congress-RLD and BJP. So, there are chances of their vote getting divided and wasted. Muslims should first think of which post-poll combinations will be better for the community. With BSP may go with BJP, Muslims should pick Congress-RLD and SP combine.

Now, the question is how Muslims should choose candidates between Congress-RLD and SP.

They should select candidates constituency-wise. Meaning, if any of these two parties (Congress-RLD and SP) has fielded Muslim candidates, then Muslim votes should go to Muslim candidates. If both the parties (Congress-RLD and SP) have given tickets to Muslim candidates in same constituency, then Muslims should pick any one of the two candidates and vote him/her en-bloc in that constituency. It is only then the number of Muslim MLAs can increase and the state can have a government which is better suited for the community.