Gujaratís Muslims: in a politically correct trap?

Time for all PM candidates to end hostilities and present voters with choices about policies, programmes and performance.

The debate about Narendra Modi's economic record has just gone international (perhaps even viral!). In an October 27 editorial, the prestigious New York Times stated in an editorial: "His rise to power is deeply troubling to many Indians, especially the country's 138 million Muslims and its many other minorities. His economic record in Gujarat is not entirely admirable, either." Candidate Modi has changed the contours, and style, of the (presidential?) debate in India. His in-your- face style has been enthusiastically joined by the other two aspirants for the PM's post: Rahul Gandhi of the Congress and Nitish Kumar of the JD(U). All three contenders have engaged in objectionable name-calling and the debate is plumbing new lows. For example, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar recently likened Modi to Hitler. The hope remains that the debate will soon begin to focus on possibilities, policies and performance rather than venom, hatred and contempt.

As part of the discussion about performance, I have published two articles in The Indian Express ('The Modi metric', December 13, 2012 and 'Lessons from the Gujarat model', October 26, 2013) on the economic fortunes of the disadvantaged in Gujarat and other states of India. The disadvantaged are defined as the dominantly poor of India ó Muslims, Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST). The specific attention to Gujarat was motivated by the fact that the conventional wisdom has been that, while Gujarat under Modi has been well known for its affinity with the corporate sector and strong GDP growth, it has not been known for inclusiveness of its growth, and particularly for the inclusiveness of those who are Muslim.

In the first article, analysis of NSS surveys for 1999-2000 and 2009-10 revealed that Muslims in Gujarat had experienced very little decline in absolute poverty, Tendulkar definition (1.8 percentage points, ppt), in a decade of Modi's rule. In contrast, the SC/STs had shown a large 22 ppt decline over the same period. This singular omission from the growth process was dutifully reported by me, and most commentators applauded my professional dedication, and my conclusion.

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