WHEN the slogan of ‘Vikas’ does not work, resort to the son of the soil argument to enchant people: this is the tenor that Narendra Modi seems to have adopted as he and his cabinet ministers aggressively campaign in Gujarat at the apex of the poll campaign. The BJP is not only invoking Gujarati nationalism, but is also accusing the opposition which is questioning the Gujarat model of development of siding with ‘terrorists’ and ‘casteist’ people. This accusation not only shows the intolerance of the party towards any criticism but also has the ability of the Party to turn away the attention of the suffering people of the state from substantive issues that should inform the people’s choice of their own government. This not only shows the nervousness of the ruling party with regard to the realignment and coordination of the opposition, but it also shows how unsure the BJP is about its Gujarat model of development and its results after more than two decades of uninterrupted rule. So what is the truth hiding behind this façade of ‘Gujarati Asmita’ and what does the BJP want to hide?
In January 2017 Chief Minister Rupani claimed that of 84 per cent of all the new jobs created in the last year were housed in Gujarat especially through the participation of the private sector. This claim is meant to counter the criticism that Gujarat was lagging behind in comparison with the rest of the country. The latest report of the labour bureau shows that in 2015-16, the labour force participation rate in the rural areas of Gujarat was 53.3 per cent which was considerably lower than the national average of 55.8 per cent. At the same time, the proportion of self-employed (54.6 per cent) and contract (7.7 per cent) workers was much higher than the all India average of 46.6 and 3.7 per cent respectively in 2015-16. These figures are telling because only 16.6 per cent of the workforce in the state has been under the category of regular/salaried employment. This means that about 85 per cent of the total workforce has been in vulnerable employment since 2015-16.
The high presence of self-employed workers also suggests that there is a considerable degree of ‘disguised wage labour’ within the state. The model of development followed by the state is based on the belief that self-employment and entrepreneurship propelled by state-led policies is the solution to the problems of unemployment and poverty. But this model has largely benefitted the big business which is sub-contracting work to smaller self-employed people and thus cutting the costs of production. Hence self-employed enterprises have no control over their means of production and the remuneration that they receive for the work that they do for big enterprises. Instead they subsidise the infrastructural costs of big business and are therefore barely surviving, often not getting a good enough income to live a life of dignity. This becomes clear with the data on income as a third of the workers earn an income of less than Rs 5000 per month and more than half the workers earn less than Rs 11000 per month. Given this situation, it is quite clear that the Gujarat model is not able to achieve a dignified life for its workers and therefore any rhetoric about the ‘Gujarati Asmita’ is meaningless.
One of the significant characteristics of the Gujarat model has been its emphasis on skill development. In fact the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana launched by the NDA government has been based on the so-called success of the Gujarat model. But what use is skill development without job creation and placements? The track record of Gujarat is quite abysmal on this front which has 423 accredited technical institutes which are meant to provide placements to their graduate, post-graduate and diploma holders. In Gujarat only 22 per cent of the people who passed their courses found placements in 2015-16. This average was much lower than the all India average of 40 per cent placements. Further a large number of those who get placements are graduates and the diploma holders are barely able to access the job market. Further placement rates of minorities and women are abysmally low in Gujarat. This shows that the hype about demographic dividend and Skill India is mere hogwash.
The government has been claiming that the Gujarat model of agricultural growth and development has brought prosperity to the farmers. However in the last three years alone, more than 1500 farmers and agricultural workers have committed suicide. Bharatsingh Jhala (a petitioner in the apex court) however points out that the government has not recorded the case of suicides properly as it says that most of the farmers committing suicides have died because of ‘personal’ reasons.
The proletarianisation and semi-proletarianisation of Gujarat peasantry is evident from the rising landlessness amongst the farmers. As per the Census 2011, there are about 14.43 crore landless agriculture workers in the country, of which 68.39 lakh are in Gujarat, then union minister of state (independent charge) for labour and employment Bandaru Dattatreya told the Rajya Sabha in reply to a question by MP Parimal Nathwani. The number of landless agricultural workers in Gujarat increased from 51.61 lakh in Census 2001 to 68.39 lakh in 2011. The rising dalit movement also has to be seen in the context of this rising landlessness as the demand for dalit land rights has also become louder in the state.
Another significant aspect of the change in agrarian farming is the rising trend of corporate led contract farming. This is particularly true in the adivasi regions where Monsanto has started the Project Sunshine under the PPP model. A 2010 evaluation report of the projects showed that the benefits to most of the adivasi farmers were dependent on the technological inputs coming from the Monsanto. These inputs were bought through NGOs and sold to farmers. Some 51 per cent of the adivasi farmers surveyed reported that they had to borrow money in order to buy inputs for their farming. Further, though the productivity per acre registered a marginal increase in some of the lands, income from non-farm occupations like animal husbandry and poultry declined. Thus the programme is clearly weighed against the interests of the landless people. Most importantly, this government sponsored evaluation report provided ample evidence to show that the strategy cannot lift the adivasi farmers from poverty. Rather it is one among the way to further the interests of corporate led contract farming.
The discussion above shows that there has been an increasing trend of semi-proletarianisation of small producers and peasantry in Gujarat. This has led to an increasing convergence of class interests of different social groups that are now being conveniently interpreted as ‘casteist politics’ by the BJP. The penury of a majority of Gujaratis is threatening to destabilise the Hindutva political hegemony in the state. It is therefore not surprising that the BJP has resorted to emotive rather than substantive issues in their campaign. It is now up to the progressive movement to ensure that the campaign remains focused on substantive issues so that the BJP can be effectively challenged in the state. Perhaps the reversal of political ascendance of the BJP will begin from here.