Beyond Gujarat Model
There are many elements of Gujarat model which haven’t been studied enough. Gujaratis reached Africa much before British reached there. As Hirschman argued in a seminal paper on civilising influence of commerce, the trade triggers a skill of negotiation, and negotiation teaches the art of compromise and cooperation. Cooperatives did not succeed in Gujarat by chance. It is true that we have had unfortunate social conflicts as has been the case in many other parts of the country, but I trust that such conflicts have much lesser chance of recurring here than elsewhere.
How will this cooperation extend beyond Gujarat?
Many years ago, I had asked a question to successful entrepreneurs of Gujarat: If a small country like Singapore can invest in India then why does not Gujarat invest in other economically depressed regions of the country. There is a long tradition of migrant entrepreneurs turning around local economies. If this process happens with goodwill, then it generates solidarity and local economy gets buoyancy. Learning from African examples, if migrant entrepreneur do not mix with local culture and help them grow then it can also create hostility. Domestic investors (for that matter any investor) will need some indoctrination in understanding, respecting and transforming cultural inertia.
There was a long tradition in Gujarat that whenever Finance commission came to visit the state, the ruling and the opposition parties tried to present a unified memorandum. The political differences were generally not allowed to come in the way of regional, sectoral and social development. Another worthy institution worth recalling was a public account committee kind of role in every Zila Parishad, normally earmarked for the opposition MLA. With such institutional arrangements, political contestation can acquire new forms of co-operation.
The country needs an era of constructive engagement in which dissent, diversity and democracy will provide the real dividend for development. While thinking about the country attributing selfish motives behind policy changes will vitiate the narrow space that is available for dialogue, given the fragmented nature of opposition. The recent brouhaha on invitation to Sri Lankan President was an example of political grandstanding. If Israel can talk to Palestinians, if Mandela could talk to the Afrikaner racist rulers, there is no reason why Sri Lankan President cannot be persuaded to be magnanimous towards Tamil minorities. The minorities everywhere deserve compassion, consideration and co-operation. How will ruler of a neighbouring country be persuaded in this direction without dialogue? Mamata should show similar large heartedness while dealing with genuine expectations and needs of Bangladesh. How else can she ensure a sumptuous meal of Hilsa for the Kolkatans. We should not forget that having cordial relations with neighbours will reduce defense expenditure in all the countries of the region. And these resources can then be used for development.
The symbolic gesture of leading a simple life was long awaited in Indian polity. If number of cars with red beacons can be reduced to ten percent of the existing number, the traffic snarls will come down drastically. And the respect of the common people for political class will also improve. The notion that politicians are public servants and not rulers cannot be debated anymore. Why can’t there be a consensus on this issue? Legacy of frugality of lal bahadur shastri, Rajendra Prasad, babu bhai Patel, moti bhai chaudhary, guljari lal nanda, and apj abdulkalam needs to be taken forward. New PM it seems has begun on the right note on this account.
None of the world class institutions created by dr Vikram Sarabhai in ahmedabad were interfered with during the last half a century or more by politicians. Can this model be taken forward to national level? Can institution building be given a place of key importance that it deserves? Institution of excellence, inclusion and innovation will need talented leadership, autonomy, and them adherence to highest norms of accountability.
I hope we will see an era of institutional renewal ahead.
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