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The myth of demythologising Narendra Modi

Shreekant Sambrani 

Inside the Narendra Modi Model of Governance
Uday Mahurkar

Random House India
xxviii+192 pages; Rs 499

The apple fell on my head the week before last, before I was even aware of Uday Mahurkar's new book.

I live in the midst of telltale evidence of all-round progress in Gujarat. But well-founded arguments say that although Gujarat has on the whole prospered economically, its social development is middling at best and other states have done as well, if not better. And, critically, Gujarat was on the growth path before the advent of Narendra Modi. So, is all this excitement about the Gujarat Model and Mr Modi being its author only hype and very clever and focused marketing? I have grappled with this problem for weeks now. I have tried to answer in the same language, but none too convincingly, because these points are not without an appealing basis.

Yet the good impression of Gujarat not only persists but seems to grow by the day. And people cannot be all fooled for a considerable period - the campaign and arguments for and against have been in the public domain for close to a year now.

Then the answer came to me. It is simple, the good old BSP - bijli, sadak and paani.

Consider this: yardsticks such as the nutrition situation, school enrolment and medical status are abstract - they are not palpable. Ditto some macro indicators such as investment or business-friendliness - the average citizen is neither overtly affected by these nor concerned about them.

What does matter to her is whether the lights come on every time she presses the switch. Whether the auto-rickshaw she takes to go to the market or the bus to her in-laws living in another town travels over roads that are not bumpy. And whether she gets adequate water nearby, or her cousin in the village has to wait for a tanker to deliver it.

Those living abroad would say these are basics, taken for granted. But not so in India. All states with the exception of one have irregular and undependable power supply that can go off for hours at the height of summer. All states with the exception of one have vast stretches of apologies of roads, difficult to negotiate in the best of conditions. And all states with the exception of one have water disputes with their neighbours, which they use none too cleverly to hide their inefficient water supply and distribution even in their largest cities. High or low rain causes immense disruptions.

The state that is the exception, you guessed it, is Gujarat. So therein lies its appeal of being "foreign-like", with assured 24x7 power, good roads and water managed from its own resources even in moderate drought conditions, which seem to prevail always in Gujarat.

This was not always so; the situation has come to prevail in the last 10 years or thereabouts, during Modi Sarkar.

So, despite what experts say or politicians propagate, the Gujarat and Modi appeal endures, and for the entire country.

That wasn't rocket science, was it? It is also Mr Mahurkar's central thesis. He should know. He has lived in Gujarat all his adult life and covered the state for India Today for close to three decades. He knows Mr Modi, other politicians and the bureaucracy well. This is his first book, which he believes he was destined to write.

This rather slim volume covers, besides the aforesaid BSP, issues such as Mr Modi's sports initiative, programmes for youth, his fiscal management and state public sector reforms, and knowledge sector activities, in about 10 to 12 pages each, apart from an omnibus compendium of myriad other initiatives with catchy names. As Mr Modi has been in office for more than 12 years now, this treatment amounts to little more than cataloguing, and not quite offering "deep insight" and "dispassionate analysis" that well-known blurb writers say it does.

Just one instance will suffice. In Mr Modi's first full term, Gujarat State Fertilisers and Chemicals, Gujarat Narmada Valley Fertilisers and Chemicals, Gujarat Alkalies and Chemicals and companies under the Gujarat Electricity Board umbrella, all started recovering and shortly wiped out their losses. Mr Modi allowed their managements a free hand, but the real hard work was at the respective board and unit level. This unique achievement deserves a thorough examination with data and discussion of strategies concerned, rather than cursory references to Mr Modi not naming politicians for chairmanship sinecures or the government not providing bank guarantees.

The book also does the mandatory "let-us-now-blame-famous-men" routine to establish its "objectivity", by listing misses in Mr Modi's record, such as an overcapacity in power generation, and asynchronous construction of the Narmada dam and canal network, among others. Politicians reading this are bound to say, "I should have such faults!" Most references to Mr Modi are preceded by an adjective: visionary, sharp, full of foresight - all make regular appearances. It is pretty hard to accept the claim of a blurb writer that this is not a hagiography.

I have the same feeling after reading this book as I did after Raju Bharatan's Naushadnama. His compulsive list-making and verbal calisthenics broke the enchanting spell cast by the magical melodies of the maestro, even as Mr Bharatan thought he was explaining to Naushad's genius. Similarly, Mr Mahurkar's lazy cataloguing mythologises Mr Modi, even as he claims to offer insights, warts and all, into the uncanny grasp of governance issues and command over the state administration of the man who would be prime minister, which has caught the nation's fancy.

First Published: Mon, April 28 2014. 21:25 IST