Number crunching

Gujarat model: The gleam of state’s high growth numbers hides dark reality of poverty, inequality

An analysis of data shows that the Gujarat model is a bubble waiting to burst.

The Gujarat economy continues to be an enigma. In 2014, many considered the state’s economic performance nothing short of miraculous and credited it to the magic touch of Narendra Modi, then the four-term chief minister of the state. This even led to the coinage of a new term: Modinomics. Three years later, as Gujarat heads towards state elections, what was expected to be an easy win for the Bharatiya Janata Party seems to be developing into a fight. Meanwhile, with an eye on the elections, the Centre and the state government have frantically announced a series of sops, including slashing rates of the Goods and Services Tax on select goods to please small traders, loan waivers for farmers, and benefits for government employees.

Where did the script go wrong?

Gujarat’s is a proverbial case of darkness under the lamps. Over the years, the high growth figures have covered up a dark underbelly of poverty, inequality and poor performance on human development indicators. Those who only looked at the growth numbers concluded that if the “Gujarat model” as it was termed was applied to the whole country, India would be unshackled from an outdated Nehruvian model of development, its growth potential unleashed to make it a world leader. Clearly, this optimistic version proved more persuasive in 2014 than the more sober accounts of the state of things in Gujarat that were based on publicly available official statistics.

The validity of the more sceptical take on the Gujarat model of development can be established by a look at the latest Handbook of Statistics on Indian States by the Reserve Bank of India, which puts together a lot of numbers in one place, will give weight to the scepticism over the Gujarat model of development.

Dark corners

An analysis of this RBI data shows that in terms of both level and growth rate of income, in absolute as well as in per-capita terms, Gujarat has been in the top five among India’s major states in terms of population since the early ’90s. With regard to infrastructure too Gujarat’s performance has been impressive on some indicators. For example, in terms of availability of power per capita, Gujarat ranks third in the country, behind Haryana and Punjab.

This is where the light shines. And what of the darkness beneath it? When it comes to social indicators, the shine of the Gujarat model appears to fade. If we rank states based on the percentage of people below the poverty line (with a higher rank signifying fewer people below the line) Gujarat’s comes 10th out of 20 major states. With regard to infant mortality rate (deaths of children aged under a year per 1,000 live births), Gujarat ranks 11th on a list of major states arranged from those with the lowest mortality rate to highest. On life expectancy, it ranks 10th and 7th for literacy.

In terms of sex ratio, ranking states from the most balanced to least, Gujarat is 15th out of the 20 states, with 919 women per 1,000 men. This is well below the national average of 943 females per 1,000 of males. If we compare states on the Human Development index, Gujarat ranks 10th.

What is much more striking and much less highlighted is that this picture has roughly stayed the same since the early ’90s, with one important exception: with regard to poverty, there has actually been a steep decline in Gujarat’s rank. In 1993, it ranked third in terms of the percentage of people above the poverty line (as mentioned before, a higher rank indicates a better performance). Over the the next eight years, its relative position steadily fell and in 2011, the latest year for which this information is available, the state ranked 10th. In comparison, Kerala improved its rank on this index from number 6 to number 1 over the same period.

At a glance: Gujarat’s performance on various economic and social indicators

Troubled times

The fact that despite three decades of high growth rates, Gujarat’s performance on social indicators has not improved even over time is damaging. After all, it can be argued that a state that has high growth rates over a long period will eventually lift other social indicators, as the benefits of high growth percolates through the economy, creating more jobs, raising tax revenue available for investment in public services. Therefore, if at a given point the income or growth rankings are not in sync with performance on social indicators are not in sync, one can argue that over time this could change.

Clearly Gujarat invested in certain aspects of infrastructure to generate sustained high growth rates for decades, which has pushed average income levels up. But the fact that its social indicators have not improved in the corresponding period and in some cases, have deteriorated in relative terms, shows that the benefits of growth has not reached the wider population.

This is consistent with the fact that inequality has been steadily rising in India ever since the dismantling of the earlier era of widespread government control in the early ’90s following liberalisation. A recent paper by Chancel and Piketty has shown that while the share of the total growth going to the very rich has steadily increased over the last few decades, that accruing to the bottom half, as well as of those in the middle, has decreased. Leaving aside measurement issues that one can quibble with, this pattern is confirmed by several other studies.

Economic hardship and rising inequality are tolerable if there is a prospect of rising incomes in the future. High growth rates can fuel this promise of acchhe din for some time. Eventually, though, the benefits of growth have to trickle down. When decades go by and that does not happen, voters turn restless. When someone comes riding a nationwide anti-incumbent wave promising to make a difference, like Modi did in 2014, expectations shoot up. Three years down, with the growth rates in the doldrums, self-inflicted wounds like the misguided demonetisation exercise, and messy implementation of GST making matters worse, the same set of forces threaten to unsettle the Modi government.

Maitreesh Ghatak is a Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.