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The slips are showing

I accept the positive aspects of Gujarat. But unfortunately, one can’t overlook the high levels of poverty, hunger and a lack of sense of safety among the minorities in the state. Rajindar Sachar writes.

india Updated: Sep 29, 2011 23:43 IST

The media covered Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s recent fast, which critics have rightly termed an image-building exercise. Modi wants to project himself as a prime ministerial candidate and, under the cover of ‘sadbhavna’, wash off his sinful involvement in the post-Godhra riots.

The media, though somewhat critical of Modi’s sadbhavna/secular pretensions, has unfortunately swallowed the propaganda of development-oriented programmes. But it’s ignored some policies that have led to a greater pauperisation of the people of the state. All the information uncomplimentary to Modi was placed in a public hearing when Anna Hazare visited Gujarat in May 2011 (in a report prepared among others by People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) (Gujarat), the Socialist party and other concerned citizens of Gujarat).

Recently, about 30,000 farmers walked nearly 350 km to protest against the setting up of a cement plant in Mahuva, Bhavnagar, which will lead to the loss of 25,000 bigha land on which about 1,25,000 people live. The factory will provide direct employment to only 498 people.

One of the biggest scandals and an act of human rights violation is taking place in the much-touted Narmada dam project. Hundreds of families have been displaced despite the fact that a complete rehabilitation of the displaced was promised. Modi’s assurance that the Narmada will supply water to farmers belies the fact that only 29% of the canal work has been completed. As recently as 2009, a Rs260 crore-worth scam in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme was also reported. The state government is also, ironically, closing 3,000 primary schools on the alleged excuse of lack of attendance. It plans to lease them to private bodies. This violates the right to education, a fundamental right, of thousands of children.

Another big scandal took place when land was allotted in the capital, Gandhinagar, at throwaway prices to private industrialists. No public auction took place and the beneficiaries comprise big builders, construction companies and other corporate houses. As per market prices, this has resulted in a loss of R5197, 1622, 317 (ie five thousand one hundred ninety-seven crore, sixteen lakh, twenty-two thousand, three hundred and seventeen rupees) to the state.

Labour disputes in the state have increased by 600% over the last five years. While there is a need to increase labour machinery staff by 100%, the government has reduced it by 40-60%. When it comes to the expenditure in the social sector by 18 large states of India, Gujarat stands embarrassingly at the 17th spot (Monthly Bulletin of Reserve Bank of India February, 2007). It ranks 14th in infant mortality rate for 0-1 years and 13th for 0-5 years. About 47% of children between 0-5 years are malnourished. About 67% women are anaemic and, among them, 80.1% are girl children between the age group of 6-35 months. In 2008, the International Food Policy Research Institute placed Gujarat at the 69th spot, as low as Haiti, on its global index on hunger.

I accept the positive aspects of Gujarat — 90% roads to villages are paved, 98% villages are electrified with 18 hours of daily electricity supply and piped water supply stands at 86%. But unfortunately, one can’t overlook the high levels of poverty, hunger and a lack of sense of safety among the minorities in the state. For instance, to overcome the ‘Muslim deficit’ in various levels of education, the central government launched a nationwide scholarship scheme on April 1, 2008. All states have responded favourably, but Gujarat hasn’t implemented even the pre-matric scholarships for minorities. Out of the 55,000 scholarships allocated to Gujarat, 53,000 are to be given to deserving Muslims. But Gujarat hasn’t implemented this programme either.

At his ‘sadbhavna jamboree’, Modi proudly proclaimed that he doesn’t believe in doing anything in particular for the minorities, as they are treated on a par with other Gujaratis. It seems he hasn’t been properly coached about the Constitution. Of course, all 6 crore citizens of the state are Gujaratis; that’s their one identity. But minorities also have other identities — they are Indians and Muslims. Just like those in the majority, who are Indians, Hindus and Gujaratis. As emphasised by Noble laureate Amartya Sen, all of us have multiple identities and we deserve equal recognition and protection.

It is an axiomatic truth that in any country the faith and confidence of the minorities in the impartial and even functioning of the State is the acid test for being a civilised State. Let’s see if Modi modulates his future policies according to these constitutional and wise pronouncements.

Rajindar Sachar is a civil rights activist and the former Chief Justice of Delhi. The views expressed by the author are personal.