Why Big Business Loves Narendra Modi

Praful Bidwai | DNA

India’s corporate world has launched a concerted campaign to “adopt” top politicians and enlist their support. Hence the media blitzkrieg projecting Narendra Modi as a “development” messiah, and major industry lobby meetings with him and with Rahul Gandhi.

Big businessBig Business would like the next parliament election to be a presidential-style contest. It’ll be nothing of the sort. The alliances led by the Big Two (Congress and BJP) are fraying. Their as-yet-unchosen nominees must painstakingly gather other parties’ support to shore them up.

Industry will do business with whoever comes to power — so long as it can wrest concessions. But that doesn’t spell political equidistance. Industry strongly favours Modi: unlike the somewhat circumspect Gandhi, Modi has a zealously pro-business agenda, with further deregulation, tax-breaks and public-private partnerships, along the “Gujarat Model” of development.

Ironically, as they become overtly “political”, businessmen exhibit enormous political myopia in ignoring the terrible stigma Modi carries for the butchery of 2002, shielding its perpetrators and mocking the rule of law.

Modi continues to be an abomination to citizens everywhere who treasure political decency, secularism, tolerance and social inclusion. Politically and morally, it would be impermissible to sanitise a perverse, autocratic and crassly communal politician like Modi even if the “Gujarat Model” were worth emulating.

It’s not. Gujarat is no leader even in growth, leave alone development. Its rank in per capita GDP has fallen since 1996-97 from 4th to 8th among 19 major Indian states.

Haryana, Punjab, Maharashtra, Kerala and Himachal Pradesh are ahead of it. Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are only a notch below. In annual GDP growth in 2004-2012, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Bihar (respectively, 10.8, 10.3 and 11.4%) beat Gujarat (10.1%). Even Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh have outperformed Gujarat. Madhya Pradesh is now India’s fastest-growing state.

Gujarat’s recent growth is largely built on past gains, for which Modi cannot take credit. Gujarat’s industry is unbalanced, dominated by toxic chemicals production, shipbreaking and diamond polishing, and lately, polluting power generation.

Its agriculture, on which 52% of Gujaratis depend, is unstable, with two sharp recent food-output dips of 22 and 11%. Gujarat isn’t a unique foreign direct investment magnet. Maharashtra, Delhi, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu attracted much more FDI in 2000-2012 — Maharashtra, 678% more.

Gujarat’s human development index (HDI) record is even worse. Its HDI rank among states has fallen from six to nine.

It ranks an abysmal 18th in literacy and 25th in infant mortality. Its female-male sex-ratio is a dismal 918 per 1,000 (national average, 940).

The 0-6 sex-ratio (886) is India’s 27th lowest. In poverty reduction (8.6 percentage-points in 2004-2009), Gujarat lags behind Tamil Nadu (13.1), Maharashtra (13.7), Odisha (19.2) or Madhya Pradesh (11.9). Employment is almost stagnant in Gujarat since 2004-05, with less than 5% of households covered under the National Rural Employment Guarantee.

On hunger, Gujarat’s rank is an appalling 13 among 17 major states, including much poorer Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. It’s firmly in the Bihar-Odisha “acute-hunger” league. Even sub-Saharan Africa does better. Nearly 45% of Gujarati under-five children are malnourished.

Yet, Big Business loves the “Gujarat Model” because it gives huge tax write-offs (eg, over 60% on the Tatas’ Nano project). Business adores Modi for his ruthless decisiveness in granting super-fast industrial approvals. In promoting Modi, it’s committing the same blunders that Hitler’s and Mussolini’s business backers made — aggravating the grave threat to Indian democracy from the communal extreme-right.

The author is a writer, columnist and professor at the Council for Social Development, Delhi.
Views expressed are personal.