Hardik Patel’s rise has been a shocker. It has triggered several explanatory hypotheses. If the phenomenon finds echo in other states, it can have a major impact on the political equations in the country. But even if it remains restricted to Gujarat, it will continue to dominate the national politics.
One could expect such caste-based identity politics in any other state; for instance, Bihar or Uttar Pradesh. These are poor states with high social inequities. The frustrations of the masses can find expression in such parochial politics. These states have also the track record of such caste-based politics.
The emergence of such leadership, even in an industrialised state like Maharashtra, shouldn’t surprise us. The demand for reservations for the Marathas has an appeal and makes headlines time and again. Like the Patels in Gujarat, the Marathas have dominated the state politics disproportionate to their population. Like the Patels, the Marathas are a landed community. But there are two big differences. One, unlike Gujarat, the economic performance in agriculture in Maharashtra is pathetic. The spread of irrigation is much smaller than in Gujarat and it has remained stagnant for more than a decade. The productivity of major crops like cotton is significantly lower than the irrigated cotton belt of Gujarat. The second big difference between the Patels and the Marathas is the former’s reputation of being a highly enterprising community. Why then should a state that has been a shining star of economic growth fail to meet the aspirations of a highly enterprising community? In a ‘vibrant Gujarat’ why are the Patels demanding reservations in government jobs, instead of business opportunities?
Caste-based identity politics has a life of its own. It is difficult to reduce the phenomenon fully to the issues of development. The task becomes all the more challenging because of the complex social psychology of the Marathas or the Patels. Being close to the land they find it hard to shed their age-old sense of leadership. But the upheaval that the rapid economic growth causes in the social structure also induces deep anxiety. But if an explanatory theory has to be based on the process of development in Gujarat, one cannot afford to ignore the findings of the Raghuram Rajan panel.
Raghuram Rajan was chief economic adviser in the Union finance ministry when a five-member panel was formed under his chairmanship. When the report was released two years ago, he had moved to the Reserve Bank of India. The mandate of the panel was to come out with a method for allocation of resources to the states. The method was unique in at least two ways. First, it considered 10 indicators of development to arrive at a composite index of development. Second, it sought to incentivise the better -performing states through greater allocation of resources. The data used by this panel reveals not only the position of a particular state in terms of its development in relation to others but also its performance over a period relative to others. In the case of Gujarat, the period overlaps with Narendra Modi’s tenure as chief minister.
The Rajan panel has used the data that is already in the public domain, gathered by respective state governments. Measured on growth in manufacturing, services and agriculture, it ranks Gujarat as 5th, 4th and 4th, respectively. This is indeed impressive. But when it comes to overall development, it places Gujarat somewhere in the middle of the pack of 28 states. But the most surprising conclusion is that during Modi’s rule, in fact, Gujarat’s performance on several indices of development declined.
In 2001, Gujarat ranked 5th on the index of ‘percentage of households with drinking water in their premises’. This rank had not moved up till 2011. When it comes to households accessing electricity, its rank slipped from 6th to 10th. Measured on households with latrines in the premises, it slipped two notches to 16th position. On households with landlines or mobiles it slipped four spots to the 14th. On financial inclusion also Gujarat’s performance is dismal. On households with access to banking, it slipped from 10th to 14th. Its ranks in the extent of poverty and female literacy have remained at 14th and 15th positions, respectively. Its ranking for infant mortality sees a dismal improvement from 19th to 17th position.
The Rajan panel uses ‘Attendance Ratios’ and ‘Number of Primary Schools per Population of 1,000’ as education variables and ranks Gujarat among the bottom six states in 2004-05 and the rank slips further by one or two by 2009-10. There could be some questions about the appropriateness of these variables, but even the ASER report has shown Gujarat’s poor performance in primary education.
So, how does one relate the ‘Hardik Patel’ phenomenon to all this? Is it fair to relate the Patel community’s discontent to Gujarat’s poor performance in the social sector? Or is a sizeable population of the Patels poor? Or has the growth remained confined to some capital-intensive sectors and hasn’t opened up opportunities to this enterprising community?
The Rajan panel’s report was released when the Modi wave had already gathered momentum and the political credibility of the UPA was at the bottom. Thus, these results went unnoticed. But now that Modi’s sheen is wearing off and a more sober atmosphere prevails, it is worth pondering over whether the claims of development in Gujarat under Modi were justified. Social scientists trying to grapple with the rise of Hardik Patel cannot afford to ignore these findings.
While the Patel agitation could be a transient phenomenon, in the light of the more serious issues such as growing internal discontent and a looming global economic crisis, a more serious discourse on the relationship between growth and development is needed. Such debates demand that we revisit the Rajan panel report and its crucial and thought-provoking findings on the dynamics between growth and development.
Milind Murugkar is an independent policy analyst.The views expressed are personal