How successful has the Bharatiya Janata Party been in bringing development to Gujarat? In the run-up to the state’s Assembly election due on December 9 and 14, the Congress has been attempting to puncture the ruling party’s claims of turning around Gujarat’s fortunes with a campaign titled Vikas gando thayo chhe – development gone crazy.

On Wednesday, BJP president Amit Shah declared that Gujarat is three times ahead of Congress-ruled states on any development parameter, and challenged the Congress to debate his party on this claim. In an interview on News 18, Shah made specific references to electricity and drinking water supply. According to his claims, when the BJP took over Gujarat from the Congress 22 years ago, villages used to get just eight to nine hours of electricity, and 9,000 villages had to be supplied with water through tankers and “trains from Gandhinagar to Saurashtra”.

“Today, you can go and check any village without any notice and find that 24-hour electricity is being provided in Gujarat’s 24,000 villages,” said Shah. “That work has been done by the BJP.” Drinking water, too, he claimed, is available all over Saurashtra and Kutch regions through the Narmada canal. “Take a look at five years in any Congress state. Gujarat is three times ahead of Congress states on any aspect of development. We are willing to debate this with Congress.”

Despite his pre-poll bravado, however, it might be wiser for Shah not to take up that debate. Even a cursory look at state-wise figures on development parameters like electricity and water supply indicate that major Congress-ruled states either fare better than Gujarat or are almost on par with it. The question of Gujarat being three times ahead of these other states simply does not arise.

What the figures say

Among the most recent data available for electricity in Indian households is the National Family Health Survey of 2015-’16. According to its figures, 96% of households in Gujarat have electricity.

In comparison, Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka – both states with Congress governments for the past five years – fare marginally better. Himachal Pradesh supplies electricity to 99.5% of its households while Karnataka supplies it to 97.8%. Karnataka, in fact, is almost the same size as Gujarat in terms of population. Uttarakhand, which had a Congress government for nearly five years before the BJP took over this year, also did better than Gujarat, with 97.5% electricity coverage.

The National Family Health Survey report also has data for the number of households with improved drinking water sources in each state. Here too, Himachal and Uttarakhand fare marginally better than Gujarat, and Karnataka lags behind Gujarat by just 1.6 percentage points.

This is not the first time that Amit Shah has made claims that are suspect. In September, Shah claimed that India’s slowing gross domestic product growth rate could be attributed to “technical reasons” that he did not elaborate on. In reality, the slump in India’s growth was a result of several factors.

This is also not the first time that the BJP’s hyperbolic claims about its successful “Gujarat model” of development have failed fact-checking tests. Several data surveys have pointed out that Gujarat’s objective growth, in terms of income rates and infrastructure, does not translate into corresponding improvement in human development.

In the Reserve Bank of India’s recent Handbook of Statistics on Indian States, for example, Gujarat fares more poorly than most other states when it comes to sex ratio, infant mortality rates, life expectancy and poverty.

Comparing Indian states is often like comparing apples and oranges, given their vastly different social and economic legacies. But if anything, as a party that has ruled Gujarat for 22 years –
a term enjoyed by few other state governments in India – the BJP bears responsibility for the state’s poor social indicators despite its relatively higher per capita income.