Gujarat isn't as shiny as the brochures make it out to be. That's the message to global CEOs attending the Vibrant Gujarat summit in Gandhinagar from January 11 to January 13 from more than 100 activists, non-profit and civil society groups in the state.

The Gujarat government has been organising the Vibrant Gujarat Global Investor Summit once every two years since 2003, to promote the growth of industries and businesses in the state, in what is now known as Narendra Modi’s "Gujarat model" of development.

This model, however, has consistently faced criticism from grassroots organisations, which claim that it has been beneficial only for big businesses and capitalists at the cost of farmers, fishermen and other ordinary citizens.

That has prompted activists to lay out their concerns in an open letter to participants of the summit.  The letter, they say, aims to shift the focus of the investors from business transactions to the struggles of the “rural, agricultural, landless, farming, fishing and the marginalised communities reeling under the onslaught of relentless industrialisation”.

The letter to CEOs

In the letter to the potential international investors set to attend Vibrant Gujarat, activists have blamed industrialisation and “crony capitalism” for endangering the traditional livelihoods of lakhs of people, rendering them unemployed. These people, the letter claims, are also not absorbed into the new industries coming up in Gujarat, because they are considered “unskilled or semi-skilled”.
“Having lost their water, land and coasts (for fishing) these poor people are left bereft of any sustainable rehabilitative support save the one-time compensation for land lost (very meagre and often belated).... The resources (land, water, coasts) that are proposed to be sacrificed by the Government are part of a well thought out crony capitalist ideology which the people of India oppose tooth and nail.”

The civil society groups that have signed the letter include the Gujarat Khedut Samaj (farmers’ association), several smaller farmers’ groups based in individual districts, the Jameen Adhikar Andolan Gujarat, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, the Centre for Labour Research and Action and several non-profit organisations.

The organisations have asked international investors to interact with various project-affected communities before signing any agreements with the Gujarat government.

“Hundreds of people’s movements are ongoing and more may be launched across the country to oppose the fake promises made by Shri Narendra Modi and his government,” the letter says. “Back in your home in the various countries that hail from, ethical and fair business norms are practiced, which are openly flouted here by our government.”

No space for dissent

The protesting citizens would have preferred to host a larger rally opposing Vibrant Gujarat, but they claim they had to resort to a milder letter because spaces for dissent have been increasingly reduced in the state.

“The Gujarat model has been promoted all over India but it has created tremendous problems for tribals and farmers,” said Paulomee Mistry, the director of Ahmedabad-based tribal rights NGO Disha, one of the signatories to the letter. “The government does not give permissions to hold protests and has made it very difficult for civil society to raise its voice.”

The protest by civil society groups isn't the only opposition that Vibrant Gujarat is facing this year. On Wednesday, the Gujarat Congress called for a bandh across towns, cities and villages in the state with the exception of four major cities ‒ Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara and Rajkot. The Congress has called Vibrant Gujarat a waste of tax-payers’ money at a time when farmers in the state are suffering because of low cotton prices and a number of farmer suicides have been recorded.

A string of problems

Cotton pricing has been one of the biggest struggles for Gujarat farmers in 2013. For the past three months, farmers in Saurashtra have been demanding that the minimum support price of cultivated cotton be increased from Rs 800 per 20 kilos to at least Rs 1,000, if not more.

Another major issue is the "decommanding" of water from the Narmada river. When the Narmada dam started functioning, it was providing irrigation water in a command area of 16 lakh hectares.

“Now, the state government has ordered the decommanding of at least 72,000 hectares,” said Sagar Rabari, organisational secretary of the Gujarat Khedut Samaj. “Without water, farmers in these areas will not be able to sustain agriculture, and are likely to eventually sell their land – land which will eventually be given to industries.”

In addition to this, the new Land Acquisition Act at the centre and the Special Investment Region Act in Gujarat have rural citizens worried.

“When large tracts of land have were acquired under the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation, we saw a large number of small scale industries shut down,” said Ashim Roy, Ahmedabad-based vice president of the New Trade Union Initiative. “Industrialisation is fine if people get jobs, but even that is not happening in here, which has led to a great deal of agitation in rural Gujarat.”