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Why can't we be sceptical about Modi model of development?

Increasingly, in the dominant political discourse, scepticism and questioning are seen as inconvenient.

columns Updated: Mar 27, 2014 15:00 IST
Smriti Koppikar
Smriti Koppikar
Hindustan Times
Narendra Modi,Gujarat development model,Bharatiya Janata Party

An important leit motif in the AAP mini-campaigns has been the mounting criticism of BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and his "Gujarat model of development". In one such meeting, as Mayank Gandhi lists out the falling indices that Gujarat has on social parameters, tots out numbers of the poor in the state, and dubs the model "only an advertising and marketing success", the audience bristles, people shift uncomfortably in their chairs, there's nudging and covert glancing till one man stand up--to abuse Gandhi.

The angry abuse is preceded by the uncritical acceptance and reiteration of this supposedly fantastic model of development. There are facts, figures and eye-witness accounts which have shown that the model was never the grand success it was touted to be. The story of Gujarat's growth can be traced back, ironically, to Congress governments headed by late Chimanbhai Patel and his successors, whose tenures saw a staggering 16% growth in the 1980s, admirably higher than the claimed 9% or 11% during Modi's tenure.

Gujarat is not the island of fast-paced all-round development in a country of faltering or halted development, as Modi bakhts would have us believe. But to accept this narrative in the face of independent evidence to the contrary calls for a stunning level of incredulity. Or the absence of scepticism. In calling out this incredulity, candidates like Gandhi risk the wrath of their audiences.

Indeed, the AAP campaign is different in its essence and style from the election campaigns that major political parties have had. Each AAP candidate, true to his or her expertise and experience, has worked out the best mix of padyatras, jan sabhas, nukkad or street corner plays followed by meetings, door-to-door approach in middle-class areas and so on. This means that Mayank Gandhi's campaign is different from that of Medha Patkar's which, in turn, is dissimilar from that of Meera Sanyal's.

The AAP campaign is really a collection of constituency-specific mini-campaigns. The party may or may not schedule the public meeting that has traditionally brought all campaigning to a close. If it does not have such a meeting, the AAP would have challenged the hallmark of a general election in Mumbai: that final massive rally. The favourite venue used to be Girguam Chowpatty and later Shivaji Park, with buses and trucks bringing in party workers and paid-for-crowd from distant suburbs, even nearby cities. The police and journalists would have a field day guess-estimating the crowds and arguing over the numbers.

This public meeting would be where the clarion call for votes was given, it was the event to castigate the opposition and energise the party cadre. The AAP has altered that. The criticism against the Congress and the BJP has not been saved until that final rally; it is directed every time an AAP candidate seeks out an audience. The message and the thrust of criticism remain as powerful even if the crowd is a group of 50 or 500 listeners. The lack of scepticism about that model of development baffles Patkar and Gandhi.

Increasingly, in the dominant political discourse, scepticism and questioning are seen as inconvenient. But scepticism is necessary. Why? "Scepticism challenges established institutions…Scepticism is dangerous. That's exactly its function, in my view," observed science writer Carl Sagan in his essay, The Burden of Scepticism, "It is the business of scepticism to be dangerous. And that's why there is a great reluctance to teach it in the schools…how will we negotiate a very perilous future if we don't have the elementary intellectual tools to ask searching questions of those nominally in charge, especially in a democracy?"

A certain Modi does not like questions to be asked of him or his model of development. His supporters, more so.

First Published: Mar 27, 2014 14:54 IST