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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Gujarat’s Message: Good Governance is Best Politics

By Ram Chandra

Two ‘N’s brought back the focus of media on Narendra Modi in the last few weeks—Nano and Nanawati. But this time, for a change, with unending applause and heaps of adulation. “Narendrabhai” as he is fondly addressed to by his colleagues and friends is today admired as the champion of development.

But it was a very long, thorny and tortuous journey for this resilient leader of the masses. Even L.K. Advaniji in his memoir observed: “I cannot think of any other leader in Indian politics in the past sixty years who was as viciously, consistently and persistently maligned, both nationally and internationally, as Modi has been since 2002.” What makes Narendrabhai a survivor par excellence? What drives him to successfully achieve unparalleled outcomes both politically and administratively, even amidst severest adversities?

To put the answer plainly directly—it is Narendrabhai’s firm conviction that ‘Good Governance is Best Politics’. Instead of fighting the crucifixion by media or being distracted by heaps of accusations, he channelized all his energy and efforts constructively towards effective and efficient administration. Instead of answering his critics by his word, he chose to answer them by his work.

Narendrabhai is a visionary. He dares to dream high, and then diligently and ceaselessly strives to actualise his dreams. This has enabled him to make even apparently impossible things actually possible. The ‘Jyoti Gram Yojana’ ensures 24 hour uninterrupted household electricity to all 18,000 villages of Gujarat. ‘Sujalam Sufalam Yojana’ has taken waters to the parched fields and helped in ground water recharge in dry terrains of North Gujarat, in record time. ‘Chiranjeevi Yojana’ has made path-breaking interventions in reducing maternal mortality and infant mortality through public-private partnership. ‘Krishi Mahotsav’ observed for an entire month every year has helped in enhancing the agricultural productivity and production in Gujarat manifold over the past four years. ‘Shala Praveshotsav’ has helped in cent-percent enrolment and minimisation of drop-outs of girls in primary schools in even the remotest villages. Three rounds of Vibrant Gujarat Investor Meets have helped attract huge investments in the state. Most of the state-owned PSUs have become profit-making, thanks to professional and de-politicised management. The focus has now shifted towards improving the Human Development Index of Gujarat through better health, sanitation, nutrition and clean environment. Surely, under Narendrabhai, Gujarat is not competing with the rest of the states, but Gujarat is competing with itself, in outdoing and surpassing its own charter of achievements.

All this was possible because of team-effort. He could get a team of dedicated ministers, officers and advisors, whom he picked and chose judging their strengths and weaknesses. Gujarat had perhaps the smallest but ablest cabinet and council of ministers for the past six years. Gujarat saw ‘professionalisa-tion’ and ‘de-politicisation’ of bureaucracy to a great extent during this time. The stability of tenure of district officials like Collectors and District Development Officers helped in proper planning and implementation, with due accountability. Officers, if they chose to, enjoy fairly high degree of immunity from political pressures. Any initiative towards curbing anything illegal gets support from highest quarters, despite local oppositions. Good work is recognised and rewarded.

Initiatives were also taken towards legal and structural reforms for ushering in industrial development. Simplification of procedures for obtaining licenses, and in effecting changes in land-tenure and land-use helped substantially. Gujarat government has identified tens-of-thousands-of-hectares of government land, and thus developed a “land bank” readily available to investors for industrial development. SEZs in Gujarat are not entangled in meshes of land acquisition disputes. Single-window-system for monitoring of progress of investment proposals at the highest level helps in expediting the process, and in clearing of inter-departmental issues. Gujarat does not have a culture of militant trade unionism and hence has the lowest loss of man-days due to strikes or lock-outs or ‘hartals’. Focus on physical infrastructure like electricity, water, ports, airports and roads has created an enabling environment. Nano coming to Gujarat is a cumulative outcome of all these organic achievements. In short Gujarat proclaims that more than free land, more than tax-sops, more than any government subsidies, good governance is the best bait for investments and development.

What proved truly rewarding for Gujarat is that corruption levels have decreased substantially over the last few years. Transparency International has on several occasions emphasised on this correlation between transparency and development. This aspect of Narendrabhai’s administration is what Advaniji preferred to emphasise in his memoirs My Country, My Life by saying “my confidence in him has been fully vindicated by subsequent developments.” Showering accolades on Narendrabhai, he writes: “Gujarat made spectacular progress in many areas of social and economic progress during this period…and emerging as one of the most developed states in the country. But what has given me special satisfaction is that Modi has brought down political and bureaucratic corruption in a way that even his critics have applauded...” And hailing his victory in the State Assembly elections of 2007, Advaniji writes: “It showed how a leader with integrity, courage and competence could count on people’s support to beat back a personalised campaign of vilification…” I am not sure who would have felt more proud—Adva

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