The Wizard of Gujarat

By Yunus Chitalwala

Since last year the BJP in Gujarat under Narendra Modi has become hyperactive. A slew of yatras, sammelans and lecture tours have been undertaken. On the face of it, it seems Modi has pulled it off and the Congress has been reduced to minced meat. But things are getting more complex as the dates of elections 2012 are drawing closer.

The recent rally held in Rajkot by Sonia Gandhi was attended by over one lakh people, mostly Saurashtra farmers. This has rung alarm bells in the BJP bastion. Modi’s discomfort is evident in the cheeky remarks he is making against the Gandhi family. Modiwallas are predicting a sweeping victory in the elections, yet Modi likes to fight with the windmills like Don Quixote in the absence of visible monsters. Adding to his woes is the Parivartan Party of former BJP stalwart Keshu Bhai Patel who has also taken out a yatra of his own. So everybody is on the move. It is like a gold rush where all are keeping their cards close to their chests.

Modi has abandoned his communal agenda as he has set his eyes on the Sultanate of Delhi. His Sadhbhavna yatra was meant for his image makeover but failed to assuage the hard feelings Muslims have due to the 2002 riots. To show that Muslims were with him, he got some Bohras on the stage. Even their ladies flocked round him in their traditional burkas. It was clearly a staged photo-op to show that Muslims were now reconciled with Modi. But the exercise backfired when he refused to don a skull-cap offered by a Muslim sufi as he did not want to alienate his Hindu votebank. Moreover, Bohras do not represent the mainstream Muslim community. They have socially segregated themselves from other Muslims.

 So Modi has turned to his pet theme of development in Gujarat. He claims to have brought about much more development in five years than what was done in the last 50 years. Whatever that is built up, like roads, ports, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, autopart manufacturing and scores of other industries, all materialsed because Modi wielded his magical wand and conjured up an Arabian Nights-like grandeur in a desert-like wilderness. But a look at history tells us that Gujarat was always a prosperous province. It was so during the rule of the Solanki kings and under the Mughals. The ports of Surat, Cambay, Broach, Veraval and Diu were ports of call for all the ships plying to and fro East African coastline including the Horn of Africa, West Asia including Aden and Oman, Europe, East Asia and China. There were 8000 traders in Surat which included foreigners like Portuguese, English, French, Dutch, Italians and even a few Austrians. There were 80 ports active in Gujarat from where goods were transported to various countries of the ancient world. The total revenue earned from maritime trade during the 14th and 15th centuries amounted to Rs. 449,600,000 or Pound 44,960,000 [Rs.10 to a Pound when calculated in the 19th century by Campbell]. At the present rate of commodity prices, the amount could be close to one billion dollars. The trading network which was centred around Surat, extended all over the Indian subcontinent and the volume of transactions would have been stupendous, leading to wealth generation of billions of dollars on the present calculation. Three great empires, the Safavids of Iran, Ottomans of Turkey and the Mughals of India provided great impetus to production and maritime trade. Modi may not like to know that Surat was known as Bandar [port] Mubarak and Diu as Bandar Rumi. The development in Gujarat has led to more development and the present cannot be divorced from the past.

The interregnum between 1750 and 1820 was a period of chaos and misrule as the Mughal power eclipsed. The Maratha occupation cost Gujarat dearly. According to historian Ratnamanirao Jote, during their 70 years’ rule, the population of Ahmedabad declined and the merchants left the city in droves.

But with the coming of the British in 1820, peace returned. As the Gujaratis were never short of enterprise, Ahmedabad once again became hub of trade and industry. Scores of cloth mills came up and the city became the Manchester of India, a position it held till the 1950s. Surat was replaced by Bombay and this gave a rare opportunity to traders like Parsis, Jains, Lohanas, Bhatiyas, Bohras, Khojas and Memons to set up their shops in that city. Gujarat became a vast hinterland of Bombay and the financial gateway of India.

The central goverment developed Kandla as the main port catering to the needs of north India. In the early 1950s Dr. Verghese Kurien helped people here to start the Amul Dairy. It was a cooperative endeavour which changed the face of South Gujarat.

By the sixties, a rich middle class had emerged, mostly made up of Patels. They invested in all kinds of industrial and business ventures. An industrial corridor had developed between Ahmedabad and Baroda, petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals being the star industries. Surat once again was becoming a hub for textiles. By the eighties Reliance and Essar groups had built big refineries near Jamnagar. The port of Hajira near Surat was under development and here too Reliance and Essar had invested in heavy industries. Smaller cities like Rajkot and Jamnagar had also become manufacturing hubs for automobile parts, oil pumps and brass parts.

All this was happening when nobody had heard of Modi. But we should give him credit for creating a business-friendly environment keeping a global perspective in mind. And this was made possible by the economic reforms of 1991, initiated by Manmohan Singh whom he reviles so much. Modi has done quite a bit in the industrial development of Kutch and the Mundra port. But  pinning a medal on his chest for cumulative development, smacks of hypocrisy.

 Figures given below are provided by economist Hemant Kumar Shah of Gujarat which give lie to Modi’s inflated claims:

 The maximum rate of industrial output was during 1980-1998, 41.91% of the SDP. This rate has remained constant even today. So Modi has not improved significantly on the figures of last two decades. 

Progess in Gujarat
Year    Name of the chief minister Rate of development-State Domestic Product [SDP]
Chimanbhai Patel 16.73%
Madhavsingh Solanki 15.00%
1985-90              Amarsingh Chaudhary 13.64%
2001-09                        Narendra Modi 10.30%
2005-11                     Narendra Modi    9.35%

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 October 2012 on page no. 4

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