By Tushar Gandhi –BRAZEN BIAS? Malnutrition, lack of facilities and inadequate amenities are still faced by adivasis of the Dangs in south Gujarat, neighbouring some of the most prosperous regions in the state
The great Indian elections have been announced and the grand Indian campaign show has hit the road. All the leaders are out in their chartered planes and some are doing the last mile in auto rikshaws to prove their aam aadmi status. Streets are jammed, airways are occupied and media is flooded.
Ever since Narendra Modi threw in his hat into the prime ministerial fray, I have been hearing a lot about the glorious Gujarat model of development, not only from his mouth, but from the mouths of many who have climbed onto his bandwagon. But what perturbs me is that everyone who talks about the Gujarat model and its glory only talks about electricity supply and its ribbon smooth roads. However, when I travelled in Kutch and Kathiyavaad in November last year, there were still quite a few pockmarked and dilapidated roads in Gujarat. But I am ready to concede that yes, to a large extent, the roads are smoother, straight and wider. I wonder how many farmers had to give up their fertile lands to make such straight and wide roads. But then sacrifices have to be made for the sake of development. Generally, it is the poor and underprivileged classes who pay for the cause of development.
By and large, there is uninterrupted power supply, but it must also be accepted that power supply is augmented by gensets and inverters in large numbers. But compared with many less fortunate states, Gujarat has been able to provide adequate electric supply to its citizens. Of course, without air-conditioners running 24×7, Modi’s biggest bhakts — the Gujarati NRIs — would not be happy with him, and if they aren’t happy, they won’t send back dollars and pounds, and if the foreign currency stops being repatriated, Modi will not be able to build ribbon-smooth roads, provide electricity or turn Gujarat into one big urban sprawl. But then, many economists claim that the one real sign of development is how fast you are able to turn the rural into the urban.
During the last state elections, I visited many parts of Modi’s assembly constituency, Maninagar. The condition of many areas was pathetic, no roads, filth, squalour and unregulated, undersupplied, uncared for slums. When I tweeted about this, the Modi brigade came down on me like a tonne of bricks on Twitter. “These are settlements of Bangladeshis, illegal aliens. Why should anything be provided for them,” was the angry retort.
I also visited a huge slum sprawl across the road from Sabarmati Ashram, where Gujarati artisans and rag pickers live in equally filthy and uncared for surroundings, right in the heart of Ahmedabad. The lanes are narrow and dirty. People live on piles of decomposing garbage, amidst choked sewers and overflowing sewage. I have interacted with them and am certain they are not Bangladeshis.
In Kutch, where industrialisation is rapid, there is much resentment. Farmers are losing their farmlands and herders are losing their grazing lands to industry. There is growing resentment. Traditional herders and farmers aren’t happy about losing lands that they have had access to collectively for centuries and generations.
In Kathiyavaad, farmers launched agitations against two big industrial projects and were successful in forcing the industries to relocate. The fear of losing their existence, just like the adivasis who lost their traditional forest and farmlands to the Sardar Sarovar, is now raising anxiety amongst the farmers and herdsmen in Kutch and Kathiyavaad. This discontent can flare up into a major conflict soon. For these farmers and herdsmen, the Gujarat model is more of a curse than a boon.
Malnutrition, lack of facilities and inadequate amenities are still faced by the adivasis of the Dangs in south Gujarat, neighbouring some of the most prosperous regions in the state. The Dangs, it seems, does not feature on Modi’s ‘to do’ list. He would rather spend an obscene Rs 2,500 crore on building the world’s tallest statue of his newly-adopted icon, Sardar Patel, and impress his trumpeteers. The adivasis of the region have lived such deprived lives for centuries, living such lives is traditional for them, so why bother? Modi’s bhakts who sing paeans of his Gujarat model all over the world don’t even know about the Dangs. So why bother?
Yes, the roads are smoother and wider, and on the face of it, there is abundant electric supply. But the muslim ghettos and the harijan bastis fester amidst squalour, filth and official neglect. From many villages, muslims have been driven out post 2002 and still can’t go back to their ancestral homes and lands, even in Ahmedabad. But that doesn’t bother Modi for he can point the finger at Muzzafarnagar. Harijans live in filthy bastis, even today segregated. Here too, Modi could not be bothered, for harijans still live like that in many parts of India, so who is going to point a finger at him?
Gujarat shines for some, for others it’s still deep and dark.
(The writer is founder president, Mahatma Gandhi Foundation)