The Modi Debate Worth Having in India

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The candidacy of Narendra Modi for prime minister offers India a unique opportunity to strengthen its democracy.
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Narendra Modi, the chief minister of India’s Gujarat state, has dominated India’s political conversations ever since he orchestrated his party’s reelection in Gujarat’s December 2012 vote. The effort earned him a fourth consecutive term in office and a steady influx of commentary about his character and credentials. As the official prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Modi will now lead India’s largest opposition party into national elections slated for spring 2014. While his candidacy offers the tantalizing possibility of a substantive debate about how India should be governed, the Modi discussion to date has frankly disappointed.

The rough contours of Modi’s candidacy are, by now, well-known. Many within the BJP’s rank and file ardently support Modi as the man who can save India’s opposition from its decade-long doldrums and the Indian economy from its own slumber. Others find ideological common cause with Modi thanks to his nearly lifelong dedication to the Hindu nationalist ideology of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar.

To his detractors, Modi’s reputation is indelibly tarnished by the violence that surrounds his time in office, most obviously the gruesome communal rioting of 2002. In 2013, a former minister in Modi’s cabinet was convicted of orchestrating a notorious massacre from that period, and Modi’s former home minister is currently awaiting trial on separate allegations of extrajudicial killings from 2005.  

Yet, beyond the specter of 2002, Modi’s critics are also moved by what they claim are shortcomings related to more mundane matters of governance. They have raised three persistent doubts about his record: that he inherited, rather than built, a dynamic state economy; that he has failed to translate that growth into social welfare gains; and that he has championed a ruthless, authoritarian management style. 

In Focus

This criticism and the debate it can provoke offer India a unique opportunity to strengthen its democracy. For the first time in the country’s post-independence history, an Indian leader is staking a claim to the country’s top job on the basis of his merits as the chief executive of a state. Unfortunately, the debate over Modi’s governance record has been deeply disappointing. For those who revile him, as well as those who revere him, it has been far more convenient to speak about Modi’s record in black-and-white terms rather than dive into the messy details of a debate more appropriately colored in shades of gray. 

Economic Growth

Modi’s supporters have touted Gujarat’s rapid growth rates as an example of the remarkable gains the state’s economy has made under his watch. Armed with slogans such as “pro-people good governance” (“P2G2” in Modi-speak) and “minimal government, maximum governance,” Modi has championed a right-of-center, pro-business outlook in his home state, which has made it the darling of India’s largest business houses.

Critics counter that Gujarat’s rapid economic growth predates Modi’s ascent to power. Modi, they believe, merely jumped onto a moving train that was headed in the right direction—and at considerable speed. After all, owing to its inhabitants’ renowned entrepreneurial spirit and generous coastline, Gujarat has served as an integral trading hub for centuries. 

A closer examination of hard data reveals that Modi’s growth and investment record in Gujarat is impressive, in line with the boasts of his most ardent supporters, but it is also clear that it is not exceptional. 

Gujarat enjoyed the highest per capita income growth rate of any major Indian state in the decade immediately preceding Modi’s rise to power in October 2001. Between 1992 and 2001, per capita income in Gujarat grew at a rate of 5.5 percent, more than half a percentage point greater than Kerala, the next-fastest-growing state. When one looks at the decade from 2002 to 2011, when Modi was firmly entrenched as chief minister, Gujarat again ranked first among states in terms of per capita income growth (see figure 1). Indeed, Modi’s Gujarat improved its performance against the prior period by nearly 3 percentage points. 

The candidacy of Narendra Modi for prime minister offers India a unique opportunity to strengthen its democracy.

However, the 2000s were the boom years for India’s economy overall, and all states did better than they had in the 1990s. Thus, the growth gains in Gujarat during the 2000s compared to the prior decade are solid but hardly unheard of; several states posted larger improvements (including high-growth states like Maharashtra and Haryana as well as traditional laggards like Bihar and Odisha). If other state leaders have engineered greater improvements in their states’ growth rates, can Modi’s supporters really claim that he is exceptional? 

To Modi’s credit, between 2002 and 2011 Gujarat maintained its pole position in the growth rankings, and this is no small matter. Sustained growth rarely occurs on autopilot; it requires competent leadership at the top. West Bengal, for instance, grew at the fourth-fastest rate in the 1990s but underperformed relative to other states in the 2000s (when it ranked only thirteenth). And several states that improved their growth performance by a larger margin than Gujarat over the last decade began from a relatively low base. Bihar, for one, has experienced a dramatic economic turnaround, but it started from a base of negative average per capita growth during the 1990s.

Even more than the pace of growth, it is Modi’s investor-friendly reputation that has won him plaudits. From 2000 to July 2013, Gujarat alone received more than Rs 40,469 crore ($8.8 billion) in foreign direct investment (FDI). The state accounted for roughly 4 percent of all FDI flows into India during that period. While this represents an impressive haul, the state of Maharashtra received eight times and Delhi more than four times as much FDI. Gujarat also lagged behind the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, and it just barely outpaced Andhra Pradesh. 

Beyond foreign investment, the picture is also not that clear-cut for all investment projects, regardless of investor class. Gujarat’s share of investment projects (in value terms) during Modi’s decadelong tenure has hovered just above 8 percent, which is impressive given that Gujarat accounts for less than 5 percent of India’s population but is roughly on par with Gujarat’s share of the overall economy. 

The share of investment projects under implementation in Gujarat between 2001 and 2011 almost perfectly mirrors the all-India trend; there is no clear indication that Gujarat deviated sharply from India as a whole. There has also been a large gap between lavish project announcements made at Modi’s biannual investor gathering, Vibrant Gujarat, and the projects that materialize. Indeed, when it comes to tallying projects that actually break ground, Gujarat is outshined by its neighbor to the south, Maharashtra (see figure 2).

The candidacy of Narendra Modi for prime minister offers India a unique opportunity to strengthen its democracy.

Social Development

However one calculates Modi’s contribution, even his critics concede that Gujarat made enviable economic strides under his leadership. But the critics lodge a second complaint: the growth Gujarat has experienced under Modi has failed to trickle down to ordinary citizens. One critic writes that “Gujarat has forgotten human development.” His backers, meanwhile, claim that Gujarat’s exceptional growth wave has lifted all boats. 

When Gujarat is compared to other states it becomes clear that Modi’s critics go astray when alleging there have been no development gains, but his supporters perhaps exaggerate the degree of developmental transformation. Consider the state’s record on two of the most widely cited indicators of social development: literacy and infant mortality. 

In 1991, Gujarat’s literacy rate stood at roughly 61 percent, 9 percentage points above the all-India average (see figure 3). By 2001—the year Modi came to power—the gap between Gujarat’s literacy rate and the national average had narrowed by half. With Modi at the helm, the literacy rate improved another 10 percentage points over the next decade, increasing the pace of its gains in line with the all-India trend.

The candidacy of Narendra Modi for prime minister offers India a unique opportunity to strengthen its democracy.

On infant mortality, Gujarat’s progress had largely flatlined in the years leading up to 2001. Despite this stagnation, in relative terms its infant mortality rate (60 deaths per 1,000 live births) still fared better than the all-India average (see figure 4). Between 2001 and 2011, Gujarat’s progress largely tracked that of India’s as a whole (the infant mortality rate declined substantially to 41 and 44 deaths per 1,000 live births, respectively).

The candidacy of Narendra Modi for prime minister offers India a unique opportunity to strengthen its democracy.

Overall, since 2001, the data demonstrate Modi’s Gujarat has made significant, though not exemplary, progress on social development, at least when considering literacy and infant mortality. This latter caveat is crucial since critics have argued that Modi’s Gujarat has not performed nearly as well using other metrics like child malnutrition (for which recent data is not available, so the trend cannot be fully evaluated over time).   

Gujarat’s progress on social development can also be analyzed by more directly measuring how well it has maximized the social development bang for the growth buck—in others words, looking at how a 1 percent gain in per capita income has affected literacy and mortality. 

Here, the relative shortcomings of the Gujarat model are more readily apparent: the state is situated toward the bottom of the pack when it comes to harnessing greater wealth for improved social welfare (see figures 5 and 6). Relative to how much growth it has enjoyed, Gujarat’s social development performance has not been particularly noteworthy. 

The candidacy of Narendra Modi for prime minister offers India a unique opportunity to strengthen its democracy.

The candidacy of Narendra Modi for prime minister offers India a unique opportunity to strengthen its democracy.

The poor translation of growth into development improvements is likely related to the Modi government’s belated emphasis on social development. Bibek Debroy, the author of a recent book on Gujarat’s development, has said that Gujarat’s focus on health and education did not begin in earnest until 2007. Where the state has truly focused its efforts, for instance on reducing neonatal deaths by encouraging deliveries in hospitals or other institutions, it has generated positive results. But this recalibration in priorities has come relatively late in Modi’s tenure as chief minister. 

Authoritarian Tendencies

Moving beyond the numbers, critics allege that Modi’s administrative ethos has qualitative blemishes. They argue that the downside to his “CEO-style” governance, which his supporters laud, is the tendency to govern autocratically. Modi has few political rivals in Gujarat, and he is often accused of underinvesting in (if not purposely weakening) the second-tier leadership within his own party. His detractors argue that many elite Gujaratis in the civil service, judiciary, police, private industry, and media are cowed by him; over time, this has led to a severe imbalance of power titled toward one man. To understand the unequal playing field, one needs to look no further than Modi’s dogged attempts to undermine the establishment of an independent ombudsman (lokayukta) in his state. 

However, Modi’s governing ethos mostly mirrors the widespread trend across Indian states toward an overconcentration of power in the hands of the chief minister. As an oft-repeated saying in India goes, the country is governed by a parliamentary system, but its states are strictly presidential. 

This is in part because India’s party system has become more regionalized—with regional parties often resembling little more than family fiefdoms or pet projects of strong-willed leaders. Even the two major national parties have become more decentralized, with state leaders operating with greater autonomy in their capitals. This is particularly true of the BJP because it lacks a dominant leadership, in contrast to the Congress Party, which has long relied on the centripetal pull of the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty. Together with the progressive weakening of the state assemblies and the deterioration of public institutions, this regionalization of parties has led to a vacuum of authority that has been filled in many state capitals by charismatic strongmen (or women).

Modi may be this trend’s most prominent exemplar, but he is by no means alone. Nitish Kumar, the chief minister of Bihar and Modi’s bête noire, has demonstrated autocratic tendencies as well. He has developed a worrying reputation for leveraging his state government’s hefty advertising budget to punish media outlets who dare publish negative stories about his administration. Mayawati, who served as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh from 2007 until 2012, was famously pilloried in a U.S. government diplomatic cable (released by Wikileaks) as a “virtual paranoid dictator replete with food tasters and a security entourage to rival a head of state.” The former chief minister was fond of erecting parks and monuments to commemorate her, her party, and prominent Dalit leaders (Mayawati herself hails from that low-caste group) at a cost of hundreds of millions to the taxpayers in one of India’s poorest states. Similar stories could be told about West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee or Tamil Nadu’s Jayalithaa. 

Despite the similarities, prominent leaders like Kumar have criticized Modi’s temperament and ability to lead the country. Kumar recently ended his party’s alliance with the BJP over his displeasure with its selection of Modi as its prime ministerial candidate and has remarked that “to govern a country like India, you have to take everyone along.” What perhaps separates Modi from the pack, then, is that he has never proven he can play nice with potential allies. When contemplating a Modi transition from Gujarat to the national stage, his critics believe that his strongman tendencies cast doubts on his ability to govern a fractious polity, not to mention juggle an unwieldy set of coalition partners. Modi has never engaged in coalition politics—indeed, because of the BJP’s repeated majorities in Gujarat, he has frankly never had to.

Modi is also distinguished from his peers by his imposing (and relentless) public relations operation. India’s state-level leaders are hardly shrinking violets, but Modi’s slick packaging is second to none: while campaigning for reelection last December, Modi beamed a holographic image of himself to 52 rallies occurring simultaneously across the state. 

A Welcome Change

Barring early elections, there are more than six months to go until Indian voters head to the polls to decide Narendra Modi’s fate. While his proponents and opponents raucously debate the BJP leader’s decade-plus tenure in Gujarat, Modi’s record should properly be debated as a nuanced one; it is simply not as black and white as either side’s arguments would suggest. But because Modi polarizes public opinion more than any other politician in India today, the resulting debate about his qualifications to lead this diverse democracy of 1.2 billion people often sheds more heat than light. 

Given the tendency for the inane to crowd out the important in Indian elections, a substantive debate on Modi’s actual record—rather than the caricatures his friends and foes are fond of painting—could be the Gujarat leader’s greatest contribution to this electoral season. But will India’s polity step up?

The author thanks Reedy Swanson and Danielle Smogard for excellent research assistance. 

End of document

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Comments (62)

  • Reluctant Analyst
    8 Recommends
    You look at this and then ask now lets compare his track record with any other prime-ministerial candidate in India. The answer to this question makes look Mr. Modi as the sole runner in the game. For the whole time in the history of India's federal elections people have voted for the policies of the political parties and personality of the leader of the party, not always coherent mutually, therefore Mr. Modi provides both as a complete package in his campaign. People who are looking at BJP are not aware what BJP has to offer but they listen to what Modi says and assume it as the policy of the party.
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  • Agnostic
    Thanks for a thoughtful review.

    Question 1: what about social development of women, AND combating "sex preference at birth", which, according to SEN, is more prevelent in Northern India?
    Queswtion 2: quid of minorities (Muslims, but also Dalits etc.)?
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    • Milan Vaishnav replies...
      It's a good point. I was not able to go into the sub-group analysis. Incidentally, Jaffrelot is speaking here tomorrow - he is doing some interesting work on this question exactly:
  • bhushan
    4 Recommends
    So you conveniently forget agriculture growth in predominantly rural nation? Agri in guj has grown by more than 8% while national average is about 2-3%. Does it signify anything or is it just a number?
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    • Milan Vaishnav replies...
      It's a good point. Tried to address the 3 main criticisms/issue which have been raised. Refer others to Bibek Debroy's book and forthcoming work by our own Christophe Jaffrelot
    • Sahil replies...
      Gujarat agriculture, did not grow by 8% under Modi. Gujarat agriculture growth fluctuates highly, with negative and positive growth years.
    • Abi Iyer replies...
      Modi is on record admitting that he's at his wits end on this one. He talks about the girl child quite a bit - but it seems like its a problem that cant be solved right across North India. The highest prevalence of female foeticide for example is in the most affluent segments of Delhi society. So obviously education isn't doing much of a job, and Modi's girl child incentives aren't working either.
  • Sudhir
    7 Recommends
    Would have been nice if the authors also mentioned the three big issues which disproportionately impact ordinary citizens' lives and which fall under the development rubric - bijli (availability of power), sadak (condition of road connectivity) and Paani (water availability). Gujarat has performed very well on all 3 fronts - fulfilling citizen expectations on this count. Guj's record is particularly remarkable when compared with other (and particularly, Congress ruled) states.

    Apart from that, there is the general perception about law and order (given the shocking crimes against women and children in Delhi that got huge press recently) being way superior in Gujarat, an efficient and responsive administration and a demonstrated record in service delivery (including using e-governance tools). There is the targeted attempt at helping particular groups (farmers with the agricultural implement fairs, for instance) that signals the use of common sensical approaches combined with the drive to get things done.
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  • jt
    Potential political allies have refused to work with Modi not just because of his authoritarian style but because of his human rights track record, of which this article sadly makes no mention.
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    • Milan Vaishnav replies...
      You are right, this is an issue. I did highlight this in the introduction but wanted to focus on some of the other governance issues which are at play but often get ignored - at least in terms of looking at the hard data
  • T.R. Raghunandan
    The State has an official policy of disincentivising electoral grassroots democracy, through its ‘Samras Gaon’ programme, which gives out prizes for Panchayats constituted without elections. While consensus selection of candidates does happen in local government elections in certain circumstances, Modi’s programme of bribing Panchayats with additional grants if they do not conduct elections is a direct negation of democracy. Moreover, in successive GP elections, Modi has actually used his official system of Collectors and CEOs of ZPs to persuade to the extent of forcing, Panchayats to go for selection of its elected representatives eschewing elections.

    Gram Sabha proceedings have been computerized in Gujarat and this has been touted as an advance. However, Panchayats themselves are disempowered and do not have the organizational capacity to handle its responsibilities, because the Panchayat Secretary is not a full time official, but the Talati of the Revenue Department who holds charge. Therefore, the computerized gram sabha proceedings only enable departments to intervene directly at the grassroots level without involving Panchayats, a negation of the whole spirit of devolution and democratic decentralization.

    Gujarat State was one of the last States to constitute the District Planning Committees, which are mandatory bodies under the Constitution. They did so because this was a conditionality to draw funds from the Backward Regions Grant Fund, a national programme that runs in 6 of Gujarat’s backward districts. In fact, for 3 years Gujarat did not draw these funds from the Government of India, because they did not constitute this institution. Even afterward, DPCs do not function in Gujarat because a shadow DPDC has been constituted, which comprises largely of Members of the State legislatures and which has no constitutional position.

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    • d sheth replies...
      this comment is really absurd. incentivising unanimity in elections so as to save precious resources ,time & money is called anti democratic & disincentiving electioneering, so the commenter mr t raghunandan wants an election" free for all" , with its elements of criminality, money power, & violence& possibly spending of millions of dollars as happens in USA.

      i find his comment about computerisation of records & inability of panchayat officials to intervene living in lala land --so he wants to go back to filedom & its inherent corrupt practices & babu giri. How does he know that a decentralisation does not occur & the officials hands are tied? Does he live in Gujurat?

      the last statement gives away his bonafides ---gujurat did not draw on its Backward Regions Grant Fund, & did not constitute District Planning Committees, sir, the explanation is simple they did not want to do it & not that they wanted the legislature to control it. It is better to arrange bijli , sadak, paani for all including the backwards than a program to only help "the so called backward classes". Using the enshrinement in the constitution to justify a completely Reverse discrimination program of appeasement of only certain sections of soceity, exposes your congressi bias. You sir, are sinister in your thinking. I am ashamed of your doublespeak.
    • Chandresh Shah replies...
      In many states including Maharashtra, local elections are gently nudged with cash incentives to have unanimous selection instead of having divisive elections. In many instances, acrimonious and divisive local elections have split villages down the middle with unfortunate deaths and caste conflicts.

      SO, I guess Gujarat is also promoting communal harmony by nudging the electorate to have "Samras Gaon" elections.
  • Babloo
    6 Recommends
    Your FDI numbers are not valid for the following reasons
    1. The number one FDI investor in India is Mauritius - not USA/Japan/AnyEuropeanCountry. How is this possible? The answer -
    2. In India FDI is a means of recirculating black money back into the country as white using a foreign route (aka Mauritius).
    3. Since the maximum amount of black money in India is in Mumbai and Delhi (for obvious reasons), the maximum FDI goes to Maharashtra (capital is Mumbai) and Delhi (state of Delhi).
    4. Investment numbers in India are awarded to the city/state containing the headquarters of a corporation. For example when Tata Motors opened the Nano factory in Gujarat - the investment numbers are added to Maharashtra since the headquarters of Tata Motors is in Mumbai.
    5. Since the only growing sector (for the most part is the IT industry) - hence the FDI numbers for Tamil Nadu(Chennai)/Karnataka(Bangalore)/Andhra Pradesh(Hyderabad).

    I would hope that you would clean up your article after researching the above facts as it would improve your credibility.
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  • Sanjay
    6 Recommends
    I find Milan Vaishnav's article to be fundamentally lazy and lacking in objectivity. His piece reads like a litany of left-wing scorn and FUD that has been heaped on Modi since becoming their favorite dartboard. He cites unnamed "critics" - who are frequently hardline leftists themselves - to cock a snook at Narendra Modi's record.

    Comparing Gujarat with Maharashtra is unfair, since that state already has a huge advantage with its capitol Mumbai having long been India's largest metropolis since much before independence. Mumbai alone guarantees that Maharashtra will be a large sink for investment. Also note that the corrupt Congress Party has jealously sought to use its control over the central govt to thwart the approval of major projects in Gujarat. Modi has certainly distinguished himself with his desire to remove red-tape in getting infrastructure projects implemented. He's done a great job with electricity supply, something which is a chronic shortage all over the rest of India -- especially in Left-run states.

    The author selectively cherrypicks social statistics that reinforce his pre-determined conclusions. He should take note of Gujarat's tremendous improvement in agriculture and food distribution, which are critical in a country with such a large rural population.

    Modi constantly talks about development. He has famously called for building toilets before temples, and for Indians to become a nation of mouse-charmers (pursuing IT skills) instead of snake-charmers. Take a look at his speeches on public policy, and you see a refreshing message of smaller govt, freer markets, and a repudiation of caste-baiting. And this is from a politician who is himself a low-caste who comes from the bottom of society. Contrast that to the phoniness other low-caste politicians like Mayawati or Lalu Prasad Yadav, who constantly wear their caste on their sleeve while incessantly using it for ethnic-baiting purposes.

    The "authoritarian" slur is particularly troubling in its slantedness and selectivity. Take a look at the Nehru-Gandhi personality cult and Sonia Gandhi's shadow-rule over the country from behind her Purdah - that's not authoritarian? That magically escapes Vaishnav's selective notice? Every third bridge, hospital and airport in the country is named after this artificial monarchy, for goodness' sake.

    Clearly there is a debate worth having about Modi - but Vaishnav's shallow rote pastiche is not it.
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    • replies...
      I thought Vaishnav's treatment of the topic was quite nuanced. But I am not surprised that a Modi-fan - which you clearly are, will consider any nuance in this discussion to be tantamount to a sellout to the opposite side.

      You are right in that Modi talks about development - or rather, he talks about how Gujarat is so developed and keeps insisting that his model of development is ideal, but even the recently released statistics on toilets in India clearly indicates that the situation in Gujarat is quite dismal.

      That is to say that when it comes to development, all the talk is not translating to ground realities as much as one would like.
    • Sahil replies...
      Vaishnav's article is an objective one.
      Most of Modi claims are devoid of substance. If you compare pre 1998 Gujarat (Gujarat had poor 1998-2001) growth numbers, the current numbers fades apart.
      Also read : The “Popular Claims” of Modi supporters are either Plain Lies or Low on Substance
  • Rana
    1 Recommend
    Very well written and splendidly researched... Wish Indian media would learn something from you guys!
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  • Raheel Dhattiwala
    Thanks Milan for a very insightful article. You’re right that Modi’s autocratic tendencies are shared by others like Mayawati and Nitish Kumar. What’s worrying is the charisma that accompanies Modi's autocratic methods of governance, making his a rather more dangerous prospect than his counterparts. I’d agree with UR Ananthamurthy in a recent interview where he says he’s suspicious of anyone who’s too sure of themselves; for a pluralistic society to thrive, a leader needs a measure of hesitation.
    -Raheel Dhattiwala
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    • Milan Vaishnav replies...
      Good point, Raheel. I think there are perhaps ways in which Modi might be different, though often difficult to quantify. Jaffrelot, for instance, refers to Modi's "saturation" of the political space - in a way that is unprecedented. His recent piece here:
  • Kaustubh Deshpande
    3 Recommends 5 Conversation Recommends
    Very interesting analysis and one is thankful to you for such well articulated work.

    Would like to draw your kind attention to the following paragraph from the article

    "But because Modi polarizes public opinion more than any other politician in India today, the resulting debate about his qualifications to lead this diverse democracy of 1.2 billion people often sheds more heat than light. "

    In the broader interest of the voters of India, one requests your organisation to publish a similar article explaining the qualifications of Mr. Rahul Gandhi and your opinion about the ability of Mr. Rahul Gandhi to lead this diverse democracy of 1.2 billion people. Please keep me posted. Regards,
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    • JJJackxon replies...
      2 Recommends
      Excellent point KD. Why look at Modi in a vacuum? After all, Modi is one choice but what are the other choices? Qualifications of rivals like Rahul Gandhi, Nitish Kumar, etc. should also be similarly examined in a series of such articles to truly have an informed electorate.
    • Milan Vaishnav replies...
      Thanks. It's good feedback. Please stay tuned for future pieces in our series. I'll be first to admit it is very difficult to evaluate Rahul Gandhi because he has never been an executive of anything, as far as I know. He has no real track record, other than as an MP. But I take your point that next step is to do a broader comparison.
    • shashi replies...
      I request the author, if he could specify few choices other than Modi,Rahul ,Nitish . I feel there are other leaders too who have a good track record and knowledge of good governance.
  • Sachin
    2 Recommends
    Good article. Very balanced also but you didn't take into account that during decade of 2002-11 Gujarat face two severe atrocities i.e earthquake (although it occur in 2001) and riots in 2002. And still Gujarat progress really well.

    Secondly you should compare Gujarat with Maharashtra by excluding Mumbai then it will make sense because if Modi's critics logic apply then Mumbai has historic and unfair advantage over other cities of India.
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  • jags
    Nice analysis
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  • Shreekant
    An important article painting the many shades of grey for Modi as a leader. However the Indian electorate has to evaluate him vis a vis Rahul Gandhi who can only be painted as a rather dark shade of gray
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  • SayanIndia
    1 Recommend
    The preference of Indian voters for a authoritarian Prime Minister (somebody firmly in command) may turn to be advantageous for Narendra Modi of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

    He is turning out to be an extremely charismatic personality in Indian politics after a long time. The trend was initially set by Indira Gandhi of Indian National Congress (INC) who was the Prime Minister between 1966 to 1977 and again 1980 to 1984.

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  • Jay
    Will not the literacy growth / income growth ratio have a lagged effect in reality? Revenues that a state generates in one year would go into literacy (and other social development) in future years. By that measure, your comparison needs to be recast for all states.
    Also the base effect dominance is very pronounced. States like kerala started at a high social development index and therefore, your ratio is skewed against states like kerala and gujarat , and tilted heavily in favour of dysfunctional (by all accounts on the ground) states like Kashmir and UP. Obfuscation to create a semblance of logic?
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  • Shailesh Desai
    Percentage only ?? Does this actually give any conclusive identification ?? when the base rate / actual performance may be as different as 1:100. Thus is a state grows from Rs.10 to Rs.12 then the growth will be 20 %. Where the other state which grows from Rs.100 to Rs. 110 The growth rate wud be only 10%. This dosent give factual growth as u will admit Rs.10 is greater than Rs.2. Which means 10% ie greater than 20%.
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  • Bakul DALAL
    Well written, reasonably balanced, very very eloquent, Milan Vaishnav. Compliments.

    During my 13 visits to Bharat over the past 12 years in course of organizing Hematology Oncology conferences in 9 states, I have chatted to premier oncologists, junior resident doctors, hotel employees, panwalas, rental car drivers and such. Following points emerge about N Modi, that I feel have been underrepresented in your blog.

    1. Awe factor: Most I talked to told me that they would love to have Modi lead their state.
    2. Unseen success: Having visited Gujarat every year 1982-2013, I have seen very significant improvement in the infrastructure - water, roads, public transportation, electricity etc. Sewage drainage not so much.
    3. All nine states that I have visited over the past decade or so, I see a mixed outlook to life in the populus, more negative than positive; Gujarat by contrast the people are generally more positive to life, more effervescent.
    4. Compared to other states, I find that the interface and interaction with various government windows is smoother, less traumatic.

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  • keshavaguha
    Excellent piece. You're obviously very aware of many of the issues which you didn't have space and/or data to discuss. But one that you haven't mentioned is regional differences with Gujarat. A more substantive critique of Modi's governance than many of those typically levelled by his critics might be that under him, the wealthy parts of Gujarat (the cities, the coast) have stayed wealthy, while Saurashtra for instance has seen few gains. Those commenters trumpeting Gujarat's roads, water and electricity should visit Saurashtra.

    It would also be interesting to examine social mobility in Gujarat. On education, while the state has posted literacy gains, other education data (such as the ASER report, more accurate than government statistics) is rather less impressive. Combine that with the absence of high-quality (even by Indian standards) colleges and universities in the state, and you can see that Modi's belated focus on education has produced little of note thus far. It just doesn't seem to be an issue that motivates him in and of itself, other than as a way to respond to his critics.
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    • Milan Vaishnav replies...
      Keshava: I agree with you. There are very interesting patterns when one takes a disaggregated approach. I couldn't go into all of these for reasons you mention. I did try to point out, however, that there has been a belated focus on health and education - even Modi's backers admit this. By the way, we just hosted Christophe Jaffrelot today on precisely this subject. Audio will be up in a few days here:
  • Dilip
    Whilst authors have done considerable research, partial amnesia is not a good thing, a small example being - while minister was convicted of mass murder, she was NOT part of cabinet when crime occurred in 2002. If Modi jumped on running train, did Congress not jump on running train in 2004, when they took over from Vajpayee? Growth rate then was 8 % and rising, and now 5% and dropping ! There are many more factual gaps. Leaving that aside did you even mention the comparison of his political opposition - let alone criminal elements, there has been lots of prima-facia allegations of billions looted from the National Treasure - CommonWealth scam, 2G scam, Coalgate scam, and the list is long.   
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    • Milan Vaishnav replies...
      I never said Maya Kodnani was a minister at the time her misdeeds took place. I was also quite clear that Modi deserves credit for growth and improving growth during his tenure. On criminal elements, I would be careful there. Please see:
  • Dr Gursharan Dhanjal, Editor - INCLUSION
    2 Recommends
    I run a quarterly called INCLUSION that focuses on development and inclusive growth related issues in India. Recently I had a one-to-one chat lasting over 45-minutes with Narendra Modi. Even I was not sure about this person but during the course of conversation I realised that he has figured out "governance" better than the others. He has a handle on all issues whether it relates to economy, inflation, growth, inclusion and governance. If his secular credentials are in for criticism, how about others? Recent case being Muzaffarnagar. Modi is a man with guts and knows quite well how to govern and govern well - done it in Gujarat - which no one can question. He is a magnet that attracts investments, authoritarian that begets compliance and enforcement, benevolent that makes people believe in him and above all a leader who is followed. Reminds me of Machiavelli when he said 'a Prince has to be as cunning as Fox and as fierce as Lion.'
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  • poovannan
    I am surprised that most if not all commentators ignore the missing girl children in the states which are trumpheted as role model states.
    The glaring difference between regions/religions/states in gender sex ratio between 0-6 is ignored while issues of malnutrition or few deaths due to dengue or building collapses are given more importance and directly reflective of governance
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  • sudhir patel
    LET all the figures and charts be on one side and you just visit Gujrat from small towns to big cities and see the differances.
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    • Milan Vaishnav replies...
      Was lucky to visit Gujarat last December. I did in fact see great changes since my last visit, almost 10 years prior. No one can deny there has been progress.
  • Reluctant Analyst
    You look at this and then ask now lets compare his track record with any other prime-ministerial candidate in India. The answer to this question makes look Mr. Modi as the sole runner in the game. For the whole time in the history of India's federal elections people have voted for the policies of the political parties and personality of the leader of the party, not always coherent mutually, therefore Mr. Modi provides both as a complete package in his campaign. People who are looking at BJP are not aware what BJP has to offer but they listen to what Modi says and assume it as the policy of the party.
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  • George Burdell
    Dear Mr. Vaishnav,
    This is a refreshingly objective and dispassionate article on a polarizing issue, and thanks is due for that reason alone. Let me make a few points.

    1. You make comparisons with Maharashtra in your FDI section. What isn't being said at all, however, is how much of a statistical anomaly Mumbai is. It accounts for over 6% of India's GDP, 25% of Industrial output, 70% of maritime trade and 70% of all capital transactions to India's economy. It takes centuries to build such centers of trade, and no CM of Gujarat can do much about it in ten years. Gujarat's biggest city can't yet match up with the four Indian megacities, and that shows the most in capital flows.

    2. Fig 5 and 6 are tricky. It is always much, much easier to get more bang for your growth buck when you have less bang to start with. this explains why Jammu and Kashmir, not an example of a supremely managed state, leads fig 5 when Kerala comes last. The window of improvement becomes narrow towards the top.

    3. Lokayukta. That needs a seperate article by itself. The issue of lokayukta in Gujarat is messy. Modi's critics, either deliberately or ignorantly, make the claim that allowing a lokayukta in the way the Governor (and by translation, the Center) wants is a sign of the State's willingness to be honest, and resistance in that matter is synonymous to a support to corruption. This is an opinion, not a fact. A highly controversial opinion. I urge readers to read up on the Gujarat lokayukta timeline.

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  • A Troubled Gandhian
    Thank you for at least an honest analysis. There will be responses from both pro & the anti Modi groups on various issues that you touched on.
    I am still waiting to hear policy & plans that Modi would bring to the national debate. His record apart from the pogroms of 2002 has been good if not excellent although he still gives an impression of the wolf donning sheep skin. A pluralistic society like India needs a unifier. Modi's mentors have a different vision of India from our founding fathers which makes me very uncomfortable.
    I am not sure that the UPA will have RG as it's PM candidate. It will be Chidambaram who will lead the next UPA Government if they come to power.
    I would welcome an analysis of Chidambaram's record as a Minister for Home & Finance
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    • suhasini replies...
      seeing this report of the development in Gujarat under modi ,I think he is worth being the pm of india
  • Ketan Shah
    most critics miss the point when they get into data and statistics. Any success or failure is owing to a multitude of factors and cannot be attributed to modi alone. What people like about Modi is he has a constructive, do something positive approach. democracy is a choice between alternatives at the end, and u have to subject to each candidate to the same scrutiny as u put modi under, and I suspect he will come much better off. u have to see 2002 in the light of 1984 or muzaffarnagar, maharashtra stats in light of it being commercial capital or whether the better human indicators in other states are as a result of any proactive policy by the state or a post facto argument invented by people after seeing all statistics. This doesnt mean modi doesnt have the flaws which critics say he has, it is just that he has more strengths and less weaknesses than his competitors.
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  • Roopesh P Raj
    The author says "
    Modi may be this trend's most prominent exemplar , but he is by no means alone. Nitish Kumar, Bihar CM and Modi's bete noire, has demonstrated autocratic tendencies as well. He has developed a worrying reputation for leveraging his state government's hefty advertising budget to punish media outlets who dare publish negative stories about his administration. Similar stories could be told about Mayawati or Mamata Banerjee."

    My comment:
    1. Portrayal of Modi as normal:
    Nitish Kumar, Mayawati or Mamata Banerjee too are autocrats. If 2002, why not 1984, Kashmiri Pandits, and other 94 riots under Congress and all. So, the technique is to take Modi and show that others are as bad, so that Modi is seen "normal".

    2. Modi is a foot solidier of the RSS :
    Modi is a foot soldier of the RSS, which has a world view which is retrograde, which is against the indian constitution which holds the rights of its citizen at a high pedestal (whereas the RSS considers citizen as virtually non-entities, mere puppets playing its part for the service of punyabhoomi, normalises even caste attrocities with chilling insensitivity), which is against secularism, which considers muslims, christians and communists as internal enemies, which is for preservation of caste system (as against the Indian constitution which is for abolition of caste), which is for communalising history by selectively portraying Muslim rulers as demons whereas Hindu rulers are all a package of virture, which hides out the attrocities the hindu kings committed upon on the lower castes, which is for replacing the hinduism as it exists today with brahmanical hinduism which is monochromatic, monolithic, syndicated (festivals are imported to other places - raksha bandhan to kerala, importing Rama as the God to adivasis who have a culture not part of any religion, while being careful in not importing festivals like onam to north india).

    3. Neutral, apolitical commentators :
    Mayawati, Mamata, Nitish - neither of these people have any agendas as that of the RSS. The author is deliberately missing out the most important differentiating factor which differentiates Hindutva Parivar from the rest of players. The myopia shown by the author in missing out the ideology behind the RSS is stereotypical of the neutral, apolitical commentators found these days.
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  • Mahesh Bakhai
    One of the few article/report which is not biased.
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  • Kes
    1 Recommend
    The reason why Maharashtra / Delhi do well in surveys is because many corporates are headquartered in Mumbai / Delhi, while the actual projects could be anywhere in India. So for example, when Tata sets up a Nano-car factory in Gujarat, the 'investment' is recognized on the balance-sheet filed in Mumbai.

    Anyone who actually lives in Maharashtra / Delhi can tell you about the 'growth' fallacy of these two states.
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  • Clean the Politics
    2 Recommends
    This is the first time Indian elections have governance as an issue rather than 'caste' and 'minorities'. The UPA alliance is still trying to color it with the old caste paint which is their favorite issue.
    The analysis presented could have taken a deeper view while drawing the statistics of state GDP growth vs other social parameters. One must remember that a small addition to an already small quantity shows a large change. That is why other states fare well as compared to Gujarat in infant mortality and literacy charts. Other states such as Bihar still have a long way to go to become eligible for a comparison. The statistics do not include growth rates in northeastern states which have a better literacy rate.
    In nutshell, adding something to an empty basket is easier than stuffing even a small amount into an already full one.
    The difference of Mr. Modi is creation of a new subject of 'development thru governance' as an election subject rather than caste and religion.
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  • Raman_NorthCarolina
    Hi Milan,
    Can you write similar article on Congress Corruption , India's development under congress rule for the last 60 years. Rahul Gacdhi's achievements.

    If you don't then you must be Congi paid agent..
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  • AnathNewYork
    1 Recommend
    Hi Milan,
    Can u write an article comparing Modi's 10 year rule and Congress 50 year rule..
    Please write why the country still has 50% poor population even after 60 years of Independence..
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  • Sahil
    Good analysis, clearly separating the reality from claims.
    A similar article that popped up in my Facebook account
    The “Popular Claims” of Modi supporters are either Plain Lies or Low on Substance.

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  • Rajeev
    Hi Milan,

    Your article titled "Modi Debate Worth Having in India" is truly fascinating and intriguing. Your approach is very balanced and holistic in evaluating Narendra Modi’s performance as Chief Minister of Gujarat, both in terms of economic growth and social development well supported by facts and figures.

    I am in agreement with your analogy that Modi's performance has been "impressive" but not "exceptional". Ironically, your study shows Bihar (which has also been a centre of recent debates) as an outlier as it “has experienced a dramatic economic turnaround, but it started from a base of negative average per capita growth during the 1990s”. Even on social indicators like literacy rate, change in infant mortality rate, literacy gains per one per cent increase in Net SDP per capita etc, Modi’s state is a laggard.

    As far as governance is concerned, anecdotal evidence (as per various media reports) do suggest Modi’s autocratic style of functioning. However, his real challenge will be in managing a coalition government (which is the order of the day) if BJP comes to power. The best course right now is to wait and watch.

    Many thanks once again for your insightful article.


    Rajeev Kumar
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    • Dinesh kori replies...
      1 Recommend
      Well i think the debate should be who can lead India in this chaotic situation which India is facing , I think this is the worst situation what India has faced before the looting of Public Money by Government more than that of Britishers who ruled the country , and More Insecurity among the public regarding the Job, women safety, Terrorism and many more,We can see during the last 10 years Gujarat had never any Riot taking place , More secure state than any other states .
      These are the parameters which should be taken into consideration .
  • Sudarshan
    Looks like a good analysis. For a change, development has been the main point of an analysis than corruption scandals and that credit must go to Modi. Even his worst critics dare not call Modi a corrupt politician.
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  • Prof P c Mathur
    At last 25% of Gujrat GDP originated fromteh Petroleum industry which is coast-based and Raj has NO coast at allThe reliance and essar productionof OIl started before Modi beamr e the Chief minister and so this much should be doscounted againt him but that he has allowed itto flourish may ccountfor him but has he added anything new in this sestor. Notmuch as far as i know.
    Iamsure that Rajwill reach near Gujrat with thepachpadra refinery within the next seven to ten but Gujrat Social indictors will NOT improve while Raj socialindiatosMAY.Let us all try to ensure THISraher thantalking about world-clas cities. P C Mathur
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  • Chandrasekhar
    You have analysed almost all points delicate poise except one. The data in Figure 5 literacy gain per 1% increase in Net State Domestic Product. Relatively better states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu have fared relatively poorly as compared to better performers like Jammu & Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh. The underlying reason seems to be that the better states are starting with a higher base and hence require more incremental efforts for improving literacy further.

    Hence, this factor also shows that neither supporter nor detractors are right, the truth falls somewhere in between.
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  • Arun Kumar
    There are many assumptions in this so called analysis. One being that Modi is autocratic. Nothing could be farther from the truth. His main achievement has been to empower the bureaucracy upto the lowest echelons of the Government, hardly a trait of an aotucrat. He, to the contrary is a team builder and the same research of BIbek Debroy has brought this out in his book. The trouble is there are many stereotypes of Modi being circulated by vested interests and people like Mr Viashanv fall for it , without taking the effort to walk the ground. That takes hard work.   
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  • Moderate Secular
    Nice article. but can you throw some more light on the extremist hindu tendencies surrounding Modi and the graph showing communal riots in and around Gujrat in particular and india in general. Growth definitely cannot be a substitute to a tolerant and religiously harmonious state..
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  • Digvijay Khapre
    1 Recommend
    Milan, you mention in your article about the percentage change in literacy and infant mortality per 1% increase in the State GDP. Using the data, you claim how Gujarat has done badly in this area compared to other states and how increase in the state's GDP has not had a big effect in its social development. However, you should also have considered the fact that Gujarat already is on a high base to begin with and thus a big change in its %growth (of say literacy) is very difficult to achieve. Notice how all the bottom states in the table are the relatively more developed ones like Kerala, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu. This is because the social indicators in these states are already on a high base and it is very difficult to achieve further growth. On the other hand, the top performers are, not so surprisingly, the poorer ones such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, J&K, which have very low levels of literacy and high child mortality and thus high growth is possible with 1% increase in State GDP.
    Thus, the second criticism against Modi that the growth in the state has not resulted into gains in social development, is wrong. To judge the social development record, Gujarat's own prior record should be compared with the current one over a period of time. Ex. 2001 - 2011 should be compared with 1971 - 1981, 1981 - 1991, 1991 - 2001 and likewise.      
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  • Modi360
    We have launched a petition to request President Obama to reconsider US Administration’s stand on Mr. Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of the State of Gujarat, India.                                                                                                                               Please visit to review and sign this petition.
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  • Modi360
    We have launched a petition to request President Obama to reconsider US Administration’s stand on Mr. Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of the State of Gujarat, India.                                                                                                                               Please visit to review and sign this petition.
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  • Disgusted reader of Indian politics
    In the midst of so much noise from supporters and detractors of Modi government jarring the internet, the analysis from Carnagie endowment comes as fresh and believable! A very measured review of the state of development of Indian states and of Gujarat's record in particular. What perhaps is not addressed effectively is backdrop of India's politics generally and Gongress party's arrogance and large scale corroption in partnering with other parties that is destroying the fabric of India society and democracy. India needs strong arm management from the leader and allowing too many leaders only increase propensity for corruption.   But how does one balance with good governance and vibrant democracy?
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India Decides 2014

In Fact



of the Chinese general public

believe their country should share a global leadership role.


of Indian parliamentarians

have criminal cases pending against them.


charter schools in the United States

are linked to Turkey’s Gülen movement.


thousand tons of chemical weapons

are in North Korea’s possession.


of import tariffs

among Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru have been eliminated.


trillion a year

is unaccounted for in official Chinese income statistics.


of GDP in oil-exporting Arab countries

comes from the mining sector.


of Europeans and Turks

are opposed to intervention in Syria.


of Russian exports to China

are hydrocarbons; machinery accounts for less than 1%.


of undiscovered oil

is in the Arctic.


U.S. government shutdowns

occurred between 1976 and 1996.


of Ukrainians

want an “international economic union” with the EU.


million electric bicycles

are used in Chinese cities.


of the world’s energy supply

is consumed by cities.


of today’s oils

require unconventional extraction techniques.


of the world's population

will reside in cities by 2050.


of Syria’s population

is expected to be displaced by the end of 2013.


of the U.S. economy

is consumed by healthcare.


of Brazilian protesters

learned about a massive rally via Facebook or Twitter.


million cases pending

in India’s judicial system.

1 in 3


now needs urgent assistance.


political parties

contested India’s last national elections.


of Egypt's labor force

works in the private sector.


of oil consumed in the United States

is for the transportation sector.


of Chechnya’s pre-1994 population

has fled to different parts of the world.


of oil consumed in China

was from foreign sources in 2012.


billion in goods and services

traded between the United States and China in 2012.


billion in foreign investment and oil revenue

have been lost by Iran because of its nuclear program.


increase in China’s GDP per capita

between 1972 and today.


billion have been spent

to complete the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran.


of Iran’s electricity needs

is all the Bushehr nuclear reactor provides.



were imprisoned in Turkey as of August 2012 according to the OSCE.

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