New Book on PM Modi Neither Glorifies nor Discards Gujarat Model

Gujarat model may be difficult to replicate across India: Nikhil Inamdar’s review of ‘Modi and his Challenges’

Updated
Opinion
5 min read
(Photo: Lijumol Joseph/ <b>The Quint</b>)

It is a book “written with critical sympathy”, says veteran journalist and now Rajya Sabha MP MJ Akbar, on the back cover of economist Rajiv Kumar’s new hardback Modi and his Challenges. Scan the first 50 pages and you understand that Akbar may have used that phrase as a euphemism for what at the outset seems like yet another hagiographic exercise on the prime minister’s life.

For anyone who’s followed Kumar through his weekly columns and TV appearances, it is amply clear that he is not the one to pull his punches. Yet, the first few pages that explore Modi’s ideals, ideologies, his early influences and the defining decade he spent in Gandhinagar as chief minister, seem to project a blatantly predisposed view of what is without doubt, the most controversial period in Narendra Modi’s political life.

Having disclaimed the availability of extensive, often polarised literature on the subject, Kumar at any rate spends considerable print recounting Modi’s early days as the tea vendor’s son-turned intrepid RSS pracharak. Developing a more balanced insight into Modi’s early influences is important, he insists, to understand the ‘impulses’ that drive the PM’s social, political and economic thinking.



Prime Minister Narendra Modi chairs an interaction through PRAGATI — a multi-modal platform for Pro-Active Governance and Timely Implementation, in New Delhi, June 29, 2016. (Photo: PTI)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi chairs an interaction through PRAGATI — a multi-modal platform for Pro-Active Governance and Timely Implementation, in New Delhi, June 29, 2016. (Photo: PTI)

Treading the Partisan Path

Notwithstanding the little detail that this endeavour is outside the ambit of what the book’s title promises to deliver, it would have been a rewarding effort had Kumar not tread the partisan path that he said wished to avoid. But from sugar-coating contradictions to voicing a firm conviction about Modi not being the mere bystander that he’s accused of, when Gujarat burnt in 2002, Kumar is unable to set his biases aside.

Yet, the book does on several occasions offer important insights into how an immersion into the RSS-Hindutva tradition shaped Modi, the leader; the tangible differences that set him apart from his alma mater and the deep impact personalities such as Vivekananda and Deendayal Upadhyay have had on determining his economic thinking.

“Modi”, says the author in this context, effectively rejects “a declining role of the state in the delivery of public services” and those expecting him to be a Reagan-Thatcher clone are in for a surprise, because his views are as resolutely shaped by the thinking of these Hindutva ideologues as they are by the free market.

Well-Rounded Critique

The chapter dissecting the Gujarat model also brings a much-needed sense of balance to what has been the most hotly contested debates across dining rooms. And due credit to the author for fleshing out a well-rounded critique that neither glorifies nor discards the Modi model of development, which he says was premised on significant advantages, but creditably sustained by the PM during his tenure.

There are fascinating tidbits about how Modi managed his bureaucracy, ingeniously turned around the electricity boards and unleashed a vigorous campaign for public sector reform that ensured a decade of soaring GDP. But Kumar is equally critical of the state government’s inexplicable failure to improve outcomes in health and education.

Whether Modi, in these past two years, has been able to replicate this state level success in Delhi, is what the author sets out to explore in a significant bit of the narrative. Here, he is only partially successful.

Lack of Analysis

A granular, in-depth analysis of the achievements, that would help the reader sift the truth from the propaganda, never materialises. Instead what we get is a long list of announcements that the government has made during the last 24 months. Kumar admits more than once in the book that scarcity of information about the implementation of schemes and flagship programmes has created a vacuum of sorts, but rather than filling that void the book remains largely a guide to Modi’s interventions across sectors of the economy.

Yet the book does manage to give the lay reader a glimpse into the sheer scale of work required to transform India into a modern, middle income society by 2050. Kumar lays out an array of challenges that must be confronted – from inadequacies in the bureaucratic set up and a lack of monitoring and feedback loops that can inform the government carrying out its job, to the grave problems of employment and education, and the morass that agriculture, manufacturing and infrastructure find themselves in.

<i>Modi and his Challenges</i> delves into the much-talked-about Gujarat model that focusses on growth rate, though  social indices continue to lag behind. (Photo: Reuters)
Modi and his Challenges delves into the much-talked-about Gujarat model that focusses on growth rate, though social indices continue to lag behind. (Photo: Reuters)
Snapshot

Huge Task Ahead

  • Both the RSS-Hindutva tradition and personalities like Vivekananda and Deendayal Upadhyay have had a profound impact on the economic thinking of PM Modi.
  • PM Modi may be a profound supporter of free market but he’s also bound by the ‘protectionism’ espoused by Hindutva ideologues.
  • Modi’s success lies in turning around Gujarat by inducting professionalism into the bureaucracy and introducing reforms in public sector.
  • The Gujarat model has, however, been criticised severely in the past for its inability to improve the health and education sector.
  • The book gives a glimpse into the sheer scale of work left to be done before 2050, when India will add 180 million families to its middle class.

Triple Transition

India, says Kumar, is witnessing a simultaneous triple transition. “It is the only country trying to build a competitive economy, while at the same time affording to its people liberal democratic rights, and overcoming deep-rooted and widespread caste and social evils.”

The complexity of this historic experiment is indeed unprecedented and Modi, he believes, has recognised the enormity of the task before him.

Centralising Authority

But given the wide range of activities that the prime minister personally has his foot in, there are many who accuse him of centralising too much power and spreading himself too thin.

Much the same can be said about the author as well. Kumar delves into a bit of everything – from the RSS to foreign policy to prescribing preconditions for political, social and economic transitions. While insightful and interesting in parts, in the end, this over ambitiousness yields a book that is neither cohesive, nor sticking to its pledge of expansively understanding the most critical challenges that a new prime minister confronts.

Kumar’s material would have benefitted greatly from a better editor who’d perhaps also like to be made aware that the UK’s prime minister (at least for a while) is David and not James Cameron, and the synonym for gossip is grapevine not Grape Wine.

Book: Modi and his Challenges                                                                                        

Author: Rajiv Kumar

Hardcover: 300 pages

Publisher: Bloomsbury India

Language: English

(The writer is a freelance journalist and an author. He can be reached at @Nik_Inamdar)

Also read:

Modi@2: No Sign of Promised Big Bang Reforms

Modi@2: There’s Scope for Mid-Term Course Correction on Economy

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