Gujarat:  A seriously flawed “model” of development and democracy, blatantly tilted towards interests of a small minority

photo (1)Critics have been exposing the many flaws of the Gujarat model, especially its very poor record of translating its high growth and income into social development or poverty reduction. In this article, Joseph Tharamangalam* highlights some of these failures, including the state’s abysmal record in such indicators as malnutrition and infant mortality. He argues that its deficits in human and social development are the result of a democratic deficit. The fact that state policy in Gujarat has been quite blatantly tilted towards the interests of a small minority means that large sections of its people (especially its disadvantaged classes and minorities) have been unable to influence state policy by effectively participating in the democratic process.   

As Indians head to the polls, the idea of a Gujarat “model of development” and the prospect of India adapting such a model seem to have caught  the imagination of large sections of the country’s middle class and much of India’s media. Narendra Modi, the “Vikas Purush” (development man), has also won the overwhelming support of India’s business and corporate elite (who own much of the media) and praise from some neoliberal economists. Even the US government, which denied Modi a visa after the massacre in Gujarat, seems to be influenced by the new wave. It was reported (Niti Central, Feb 13, 2014) that its ambassador in India visited Modi earlier this year, praising the “excellent business climate” in his state and seemingly endorsing its “good model of governance”.

GDP growth does not necessarily produce human development and social well-being

Before dealing with my central theme of Human Development (HD), let me make a few quick comments on the hype about Gujarat’s high growth. First, its high growth is neither new nor exceptional; its ranking in terms of Per Capita Net State Domestic Product (PCNSDP) has been 6th or 7th in the past two decades.  According to the Inequality-adjusted HD for Indian states (2010) that uses per capita income in US dollars (PPP), Gujarat ranked 7th. Its per capita income of $3783 was considerably below the 3783 of the best performer, Kerala.  Its global ranking was the same as India’s 119 as against Kerala’s 98, below such countries as Vietnam and Equatorial Guinea with much lower incomes ($2995 and $222 respectively).  Second, contrary to the myth about Gujarat’s exceptional ability to attract FDI, the actual record has been unexceptional, a mere 2.38 percent against Maharashtra’s 39.4 percent, ranking 6th among Indian states in this respect.  (Hensman, Economic and Political Weekly, March 15, 2014). Third, something that may surprise right-wing ideologues advocating balanced budgets at all costs, financial management in Gujarat has been marked by indiscipline and growing indebtedness. Between 2002 and 2013 the state’s debt increased from Rs 45,301 to Rs. 1, 38,978 crores. Today each Gujarati carries a debt of Rs 23,163 if the population is taken to be 60 million” (Hensman).

That said, my interest here is not about GDP growth per se, but what is done with it. On this score we can obtain a report card of sorts by taking a quick look at Gujarat’s development record through the lens of the Human Development  (HD) perspective and by using the measures provided by UNDP’s Human Development Reports (HDRs) and other similar measures such as the Multi Dimensional Poverty Index (MPI) and the Global Hunger Index (GHI), provided by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) and the International Food Policy Research (IFPRI) respectively.  The HD approach has highlighted the point that GDP growth per se does not necessarily trickle down and produce high HD. While this is by means a new discovery, HD research and the HDRs spawned by it have proved to be very useful in providing an annual report card on the performance of countries and regions within countries. Reiterating the central theme of the HD approach, the  twentieth anniversary edition of the HDR (2010) stated:

“One of the most surprising results of human development research in recent years, confirmed n this Report, is the lack of a significant correlation between economic growth and improvements in health and education”.

In an India that is a poor performer in HD (ranking 134 out of 187 countries in 2011), Gujarat stands out as a laggard among states within India in translating its relatively high growth and income into Human Development and poverty alleviation. According to India Human Development Report (IHDR), 2011, Gujarat’s ranking in the HD Index was 11 among 23 selected Indian states  in 2007-2008 having fallen by one step from its 10th place in 1999-2000, just below Karnataka.  A recent report by a high profile government committee headed by Range Rajan used an alternative composite index of development that included such additional variables as poverty ratio and female literacy rate. This report placed Gujarat 12th among the 28 Indian states, in the lower half of the “medium developed” group.

Clearly, Gujarat’s low HD ranking relative to its high income is a result of its deficits in education and health. One of the most striking –and disturbing—features of the Gujarat model is how unfriendly it is to women and children, especially those living in rural areas. Take literacy: while the state’s literacy rate of 68.1, is just a notch above India’s 67, literacy for rural women (56) is one of the lowest among Indian states. Furthermore, this trend continues without change as can be seen from the high proportions of female children aged 6-17 years who are out of school, a staggering 26.5 percent. Gujarat is the third worst performer here, just above Orissa and Rajasthan. Given Gujarat’s religious divisions and the exceptionally poor conditions of its Muslim minority, it is significant to note that the figure for Muslim female children is 44, on par with Bihar in this respect.

Gujarat’s female Life Expectancy of 65.2 is 11.1 years below Kerala`s 76.3, a gap of 11.1 years. Its Infant Mortality Rate or IMR (2009) of 48 (Goa, 11, Kerala 12) is not only high, but has been showing slower decline than India’s (and those of other states) between 1991 and 2005. IMR is a sensitive indicator of women’s status in general, and of health care for pregnant women (such as nutritional supplement) and children (such as provision of immunization) for children. Gujarat also has exceptionally high proportions of underweight and anaemic women, and stunted and wasted children. Its appallingly low sex ratio of 918 is well below India’s low 940. It is noteworthy that while Haryana, historically notorious for its low sex ratio, showed some improvement between 2001 and 2011 (861 to 877) Gujarat’s figure showed a decline from 921 in 2001. That the situation is worsening is confirmed by its child sex ratio (0-6 years) of 886,well below India’s 914 (IHDR, 2011).

Gujarat’s status in the India State Hunger Index (ISHI), 2008, must be labelled as nothing less than scandalous. Gujarat stands out as a major centre of hunger and malnutrition in a country that has itself a terrible global record in this respect and is home to the single largest pool of hungry people in the world (225 million). The ISHI placed Gujarat 13th among 17 major Indian states. With a Hunger Index value of 23.8, Gujarat is the 5th worst performer among 17 major states, (in the category of “alarming”) and ranking below even such poor states as UP and Orissa. The proportion of the population that suffered from calorie undernourishment was 23.9 (India 20) and that of children under 5 years who were underweight was a staggering 44.4 (India 42.2).

Poverty still high

Despite some reports to the contrary, Gujarat’s high growth has not translated into any significant poverty reduction. Even by the standard of India’s controversial and contested Head Count Ratio (HCR) 16.8 percent of the state’s population fell below the poverty line in 2004-5. To be sure, high growth Gujarat`s rate is better than the Indian average of 27.5, but what is noteworthy is that at  least nine states and union territories do better than Gujarat.  The Multi-dimensional Poverty Index (MPI), a composite index of 10 indicators and a better measure of poverty (2007) ranked Gujarat 9th among 21 major Indian states.  The number of MPI poor in the state stood at 23.8 million or 41.5 percent of its population.  Again the point to note here is that there was a wide gap between Gujarat and the better performing states; the proportion of MPI poor in Kerala, Goa and Punjab were 15.9,  21.7, and  31respectively (OPHI, Country Briefing- India. 2010).

Open defecation and manual scavengers

Recently Modi tried to outdo the central minister for rural development, Jairam Rmesh, by proclaiming: Pahale shauchalaya, phir devalaya (build toilets before you build temples). This was in the aftermath of a UNICEF report according to which India had one of the highest numbers of people who defecated in the open, 638 million, making up some 64% of the 1.1 billion who did so world-wide. This was “India’s shame”, Ramesh had said, promising to implement programmes to address the issue. Note that this is far from a trivial matter; the practice is associated with infectious diseases and, according to some studies, it is also a strong predictor of stunted children.

Gujarat, it turns out, shining or not, is a smelly state.  According to Census 2011, 52 lakh homes in Gujarat had no toilets, 49 lakh still defecating in the open and others using public toilets. The figures for rural Gujarat provided by IHDR, 2011 is worse; 67.3 percent without toilets as against India`s 65.2 and Kerala`s 5.3. Even worse and scandalous is the state`s  record in the practice of manual scavenging, prohibited by law since 1993 and continuing despite promises made by the Gujarat government to eliminate the practice.  As per Census 2011 there are over 2500 households served by manual scavengers (Rawat,, March 2, 2013). A recent survey by a community-based organization, Manav Garima, reported that manual scavenging was practised in 21 spots under the aegis of the Ahmadabad municipal corporation. The appalling position of the manual scavengers of the Valmiki community has been reported by several inquiry committees; an ethnographic study by Thekaekara (2003) has provided a graphic description of the degrading manner in which they are treated by the upper castes.

Behind the numbers: government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich

What explains Gujarat’s poor record of  human development that is the worst among Indian states (and certainly many countries too) at the same level of income? The rich literature on Kerala, widely known for its HD gains that were  achieved during a period of low growth, has identified some factors behind its HD success: a history of  social mobilization and organized struggles by disadvantaged classes leading to high levels of democratic participation (a point that seems to have been entirely lost on economists Jagdish Bhagawati and Arvind Panagaria in their pronouncements on Kerala), a pro-active state influenced, if not “captured”, by these classes that intervenes on their  behalf  through pro-poor, welfare  and redistributive policies. As I have argued elsewhere, similar factors have been at play in other high achieving states and countries such as Cuba, China, and Costa Rica. Kerala`s relative success in poverty alleviation (among the best in India) had very much to do with redistributive and pro-poor policies. Unsurprisingly, growth elasticity of poverty here (the extent to which growth translates into poverty reduction) was noted to be four times that of Bihar and similar north Indian states a decade ago.

Two general points can be made about state policies in Gujarat.  First, Gujarat has been a laggard in the provision of public goods such as education, health and basic social security that reach all sections of the population. Instead, state policy has been tilted in favour of the corporate elite and the upper classes and castes in general, and less “distribution-aware”, pro-poor and pro-welfare in comparison with many other Indian states. There should be little surprise about the outcome of such policies. “ appears“, noted IHDR, 2011, in a typical understatement, “… that the high growth achieved by the state over the years has not percolated to the marginalized sections of society, particularly STs and SCs, to help improve their human development outcomes”.  Second, Gujarat has a poor record in implementing welfare policies such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), launched by the central government.

Social sector spending in Gujarat is not only low, but has been declining further under Modi’s regime.  Using RBI data, Gujarat economist Hirway (, October 1, 2012) has shown that the state ranked 15th among 20 major states in this respect. Per capita state expenditure on health and education in 2009-10 was Rs.1148 and Rs.293, and the state stood 17th and 16th respectively among the major 20 states, just above the three poorest states of UP, MP and Bihar. In fact, there was a steep fall in its ranking since the state stood 6th in both health and education spending only a decade ago. According to economist Mahadevia (Tehelka, Dec 15, 2007), health care in rural Gujarat worsened in the 1990s and further deteriorated during Modi`s tenure as CM.

The NREGS was one of the early programmes launched by the Indian government in response to strong popular demands from below raised in the context of rapidly deteriorating living conditions in rural India in the post-reform period. And there is general consensus that this has been one of the most successful support programmes for the rural poor in recent years. Gujarat, however, has been a reluctant participant in the programme. An evaluation of the NREGS found  Gujarat to be at the bottom of Indian states in its implementation. Similar has been the state`s disregard in implementing scholarship programmes, especially those aimed at disadvantaged minorities such as Muslims (A.Shariff, May 17, 2011.

A 2013 report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) widely reported in the media, indicted the Modi government for its failure to implement programmes aimed at fighting the very serious problem of child malnutrition in the state where every third child is underweight. The report said that “…though there were 223.16 lakh eligible beneficiaries under Supplementary Nutrition (SN) programme under the Integrated Child Development Scheme, 63.37 lakh beneficiaries (28%) were left out”. Similarly, there were serious shortfalls in meeting the target of 300 nutrition days annually, and a 30 percent shortfall in the provision of anganwadis, pre-schools which have been at the centre of the fight against malnutrition in children under 6 years of age. Of those which had been provided, a further 1912 were found to be non-functional (Avinash Pandey, Asian Human Rights Commission, 2013:

The truth is that Gujarat is a quintessential model of crony capitalism that disburses huge grants to corporate friends leaving little for social spending. And such a model is very different from those associated with high HD that some political scientists have called effective or vibrant democracies which put redistributive pressures on the state.  Gujarat lacks some of the prerequisites for such a democracy– robust and rational-legal (in contrast to communal or tribal) movements and mobilized opposition from below, able to exert enough organized pressure  to counter the power of the elite managing its model of crony capitalism.

Key sectors of the economy – traditionally regarded as the preserve of the state – such as ports, roads, rail and power have been handed over to corporate capital, complete with huge financial subsidies and with little oversight over their management by the state.  These corporations have been favoured over farmers and consumers in the allocation of essential and scarce recourses such as water and electricity.  The beneficiaries of the Modi administration’s largesse include the Tatas, the Adanis and the Ambanis. To cite just one example,  Tata’s Nano plant received a staggering loan of Rs.9570 crores at 0.1 percent interest, to be paid back on a monthly basis after 20 years, in addition to land at much below market rates, with stamp duty, registration charges and electricity paid for by the state. Tata’s own investment was only 2900 crores (Hensman).

No surprise, then, that Modi’s most generous supporters has been his corporate friends who happily deploy the media they control to support his candidacy and put other resources including their aircraft at his service. Surely, these corporates must have a short-sighted  view of their own interest since a more inclusive pattern of development is good, even a prerequisite,  for a stable capitalist system in which they can continue to flourish and enjoy their own wealth in relative peace.

Corruption, crime and suppression of RTI activists

Such collusion between the state and the corporate sector has been a source of corruption at high levels in Gujarat. Anti-corruption movements, creating a strong wave across the country in recent years, seem to have been less effective in the state. It has been reported (Hensman) that those campaigning against corruption using the Right to Information (RTI) Act have faced the wrath of the Modi government.  Assaults and even murders of RTI activists have been disproportionately high in the state. The Gujarat government has been a reluctant implementer of the Act; it has only two RTI commissioners against 8-9 in states like Maharashtra and TN, and has been very hesitant in even filling the post of the Lokayukta, the corruption watchdog, as required by the Lokayukta Act. The government went to the extent of amending the Act to make it toothless and bring it under its own control. It appears that the Modi government became really afraid after it saw how another BJP Chief Minister in Karnataka was forced to resign in the aftermath of action initiated against him by that state`s Lokayukta.


In an India that has a very poor record of hunger and malnutrition, Gujarat stands out as one of the worst performers with exceptionally high proportions of hungry, malnourished and underweight children and anaemic women. It is a smelly state with 65 percent of its rural people deprived of toilets and still employing manual scavengers, a practice prohibited by law. Its rate of poverty reduction and other improvements in HD indicators have slowed relative to other Indian states during the same period in which it has experienced high GDP growth.

Behind Gujarat`s HD deficits is an underlying democratic deficit. The vast majority of the state’s people have been powerless in effectively participating in the democratic process and in influencing state policy in their favour through more inclusive and redistributive measures.

Clearly, the prospect of Gujarat becoming a model for India under the leadership of Modi is troubling. India, with all its failures, has been making some improvements, albeit slow and tardy, precisely because of its vibrant, resilient and largely inclusive democracy which includes civil society activism and a pro-active judiciary.  It is this democratic process and the rights-based struggles of the people, not the largesse of a Vikas Purush, that have resulted in the recent gains in such programmes as the RTI, the NREGS and the Food Security Act. These gains are likely to be severely compromised under a Modi-Gujarat model. The country`s social sector and welfare policies, already weak, are likely to deteriorate even further. The fate of the anti-corruption and other protest movements from below is any body`s guess, given the high-handed manner in which anti-corruption and RTI activists have been treated in Gujarat.

*Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Mount St. Vincent University and Adjunct Professor of International Development Studies at St. Mary`s University, both in Halifax, Canada


2 thoughts on “Gujarat:  A seriously flawed “model” of development and democracy, blatantly tilted towards interests of a small minority

  1. Dear Joe,

    My hearty congratulations for your insightful article which is an eye-opener on the actual situation of Gujarat under Modi’s rule! Modi as PM, hyped by the media, will be an economic and social disaster for India. Please keep exposing the crony capitalism of Modi. Thank you, Joe.

    Wishing you a happy Easter,

    George Mlakuzhyil SJ
    Navjivan Renewal Centre
    4 Raj Niwas Marg
    Delhi 110054.

  2. Dear Professor Tharamagalam,
    Thanks for sending your piece on Gujarat. I wish you had rtaken a comparative view of Gujarat before 2002 and now. Similarly, I hope you are aware that MAharashtra’s performance and record on indicators like poverty alleviation. malnutrition and infant mortality especially in the Vidarbha’s Melghat tribal area as also in Nagpur division.


    D.N. Dhanagare,
    National Fellow,
    Indian Institute of Advanced Study,
    Rashtrapati Niwas, Summer Hill,
    Shimla-171 005 (Himahal Pradesh)

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