Dhoran Pardi (Ankleshwar), Dec. 9: In Narendra Modi’s state, “development” lies in the eye of the beholder.
If a Gujarati is from a dominant caste like the Patels, is well-off with enough land to sustain a spin-off business and tops it with an NRI connection, his theme song is Modi’s “path-breaking vikas (progress)”.
To such a Gujarati, the state’s roads were never smoother, the power supply so uninterrupted (even if the tariff is steep), and the tap water so bountiful as under Modi.
He finds it easy to dismiss the Congress claim that Modi’s “good work” is sustained by the foundations the party had laid after Gujarat was carved out of Maharashtra.
But to tribals or Dalits, Modi’s “development mantra” is just hype. They believe that whatever has improved their lives came from the Congress: the Indira Awaas Yojana, reservations, free or subsidised education.
The development divide is evident at Dhoran Pardi village, off the busy Ahmedabad-Mumbai highway.
Kamlesh Patel and Kadu Patel live here in a spruce settlement of two and three-storey houses that have air-conditioners and satellite TV. The lanes are choked with cars.
“This is a BJP village, thanks to Modi,” Kamlesh said. “He has given us everything: roads, running water, electricity. He has mastered the skill of extracting work out of the bureaucracy.”
He added: “I myself received a personal response from him for a project I wanted carried out in our village: it was faxed within 24 hours. The simple truth is that every political leader is corrupt, but Modi is probably less corrupt and is efficient. The Congress is like a 60-year-old woman; it’s past its prime.”
A short distance away live Adivasis like Nathubhai and Daji Vasava.
“The BJP can never work like the Congress. The road we have here is because of the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana. The houses we live in are because of Indira Gandhi’s housing scheme (the Indira Awaas Yojana was actually started by the Rajiv Gandhi government),” Vasava said.
“Modi imitated her and gave us the Sardar Patel Awaas Yojana, but the houses were too small even for two people. The toilets had no doors: we had to fit the doors ourselves or use curtains. We have to bribe clerks to get our Scheduled Tribe certificates. Modi’s doors are shut to the aam aadmi: they open only for the industrialists.”
Modi’s “pro-affluent” image has indeed hobbled his campaign to blame the Congress for the rising prices.
For instance, during this year’s Uttar Pradesh elections, no voter blamed Mayawati for the inflation. But in Gujarat, the Dalits and tribals are convinced that Modi's “pandering” to the rich had made their lives “miserable”.
“Small people like us mean nothing to Modi,” said Jasubhai of Surwady village in Ankleshwar.
The tribals and Dalits aren’t alone. Perhaps for the first time, even some among the better-off are being heard questioning Modi’s “vikas” claims and his propensity to beat his own drum.
Kamlesh Gandhi runs a construction firm in Gandhinagar’s Jamayitpura village and frequently visits China, Modi’s development role model.
“I saw the growth and development in Shanghai and there isn’t even one per cent of that in Gujarat,” Gandhi said.
“Because the people here have not travelled much, they buy the claims in Modi’s ad campaigns. Find out how much is spent on his ads and how much of the money earmarked for pro-poor schemes actually reaches the targets.”
He added: “The point is, Gujarat had good infrastructure from the beginning. Whatever schemes Modi is flaunting — like the helpline for ambulances and emergency medical aid and the bus rapid transit system — are central schemes. If you are doing good work, must you make a production of it? It grates on my ears.”
To this, Gaurang Patel, a BJP worker who heads Mehsana’s Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee, said: “This is where the skills of a politician come into play. In any case, the cost of these schemes is shared by the Centre and the state government; so why shouldn’t Modi claim credit?”