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The Nano and Good Governance in Gujarat

The government of Narendra Modi has always maintained that Gujarat epitomises good governance. But transparency, a prominent feature of good governance, is missing when it comes to information about the Nano project agreement with the Tatas.

COMMENTARY

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The Nano and Good Governance in Gujarat

Nikita Sud

The government of Narendra Modi has always maintained that Gujarat epitomises good governance. But transparency, a prominent feature of good governance, is missing when it comes to information about the Nano project agreement with the Tatas.

Nikita Sud (nikita.sud@qeh.ox.ac.uk) is with the Department of International Development, University of Oxford.

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
december 13, 2008

A
new ideal of governance has emerged in the last 15 years. Shunning the cumbersome and bureaucratic State so much in evidence around the world until the 1980s, “good governance” is now conceptualised as accountable, transparent, decentralised and democratically responsive. Under Chief Minister Narendra Modi Gujarat is touted – not least by him and his party – as being at the forefront of good governance. The lightning speed with which the project for building the so-called people’s car, the Tata Nano, was transferred to the state in October 2008, has reinforced the administrative credentials of Modi’s Gujarat for many. These credentials glow all the brighter when contrasted with the politicking and encumbered governance witnessed in the Nano’s old home in West Bengal. Modi’s numerous supporters in the Indian media, in middle class homes, on blogs and discussion boards on the internet, cannot get over the delicious irony of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s time-tested model of industrial strikes and dharnas as a form of political protest coming back to haunt the party. That too, just as it is trying to cultivate an investment friendly image. Far from West Bengal’s shame, in a context where the politics of pride gets enmeshed with the economics of development all too easily, we are told that Hindu Gujarat has proven the communists and secularists wrong once again. To an observer not steeped in these jingoistic binaries, what sort of governance does the handling of the Nano project represent?

The deal between the Tatas and the government of Gujarat remains a secret. Details of the price of land handed over, tax concessions and additional benefits to the company, and the contents of the memorandum of under standing signed by the two parties are not part of public knowledge. There have

been reports in the press that while the market price of the 1,050 acres of land given to the Tatas in Sanand (hitherto controlled by the Anand Agricultural University) is Rs 2,500 per square metre, the company was asked to pay Rs 1,000 per square metre. It is also being said that the government has under taken to handle any financial or legal liabilities that may be associated with the land or the wider project, including environmental conditionalities such as the treatment of water and effluents. We will have to treat this information as conjecture for the present as even the main opposition party’s demands for information on the deal with the Tatas have been rebuffed. In this far-from-transparent atmosphere in which even the state’s politically well-connected and powerful are in the dark, the average Gujarati does not stand a chance of learning the truth.

In terms of accountability, one has to ask who the government is accountable to for the smooth operationalisation of the Nano venture. In political rallies and television interviews, the Nano is projected as having been brought to Gujarat for the benefit of the state and its people. The dedication of garba (folk dance) songs to the car, and the demand in drawing room conversations that it be renamed “Nano Gujarati” and be coloured saffron certainly give the impression that the government and the party that leads it are playing to a very pleased constituency and gallery. But once the drum rolls die down, who will this project be for? How will it benefit Gujaratis? Handshakes between industrial houses and the government of Gujarat in the past have been accompanied by the expectation and legislatively articulated demand that 80% of those employed in the upcoming

COMMENTARY

project on Gujarati soil will be from G ujarat. This condition has usually been flouted with labour and especially m anagerial cadres being brought in from different parts of the country. This is hardly surprising since industrial houses such as Essar, Reliance, Wipro or Tata are a ccountable to their shareholders, fi nan ciers, and their profit bottom lines and not to the people of Gujarat. And rightly so perhaps. But the government is another matter.

In the case of the Nano, we are also told that the project will boost the automobile industry and its ancillaries in Gujarat. In the short to medium term, however, this is not likely to happen. If Ratan Tata adheres to his promise to the Nano vendors in S ingur, we can expect all 65 of them to relocate to Sanand. If the project does not guarantee employment or vendor contracts to the middle and lower middle class of Gujarat, its presence is likely to have a negative impact on a case that is currently in the Gujarat courts and concerns the ownership of land on which the Nano will be built. The ancestors of M anuba and Mukeshbhai Vaghela leased the 2,200 acres of land that currently hosts the Anand Agricultural University to the colonial State in 1902 for a period of 99 years. While the farmers have no objection to a large part of this land now being given to the Tatas, they were surprised to learn of its transfer from the newspapers and have been told that they have no claim to any compensation. A government that has gone out of its way to facilitate the acquisition of land for the Tatas is simultaneously doing all it can to obliterate any claims to this resource that another stakeholder – in this case a bona fide Gujarati stakeholder – may have.

Currency of Rhetoric

Talking of decentralisation, the handling of the Nano project’s transfer to Gujarat has been anything but an example of decentralisation. Even the political and bureaucratic executive – the core of Gujarat’s government – had no inkling of the deal till they saw a beaming Narendra Modi and Ratan Tata at a widely televised press conference. The government machinery that has ushered in the project has a chief minister with strong authoritarian tendencies, and less than a handful of pliant bureaucrats chosen by him at the helm. Is it any wonder then that the proceedings related to the Nano in Gujarat have steered clear of the debate, contestation and eventual consensus building that one would have expected in a politically accountable “good” government?

The Nano’s entry into Gujarat has been scripted by a state-big business alliance. One partner in this alliance will no doubt deliver on the promise of rolling out a lowcost car. The other partner, led by Modi, will make good the promise of a people’s car in rather more intangible currency. This is the currency Modi has dealt during his seven years as chief minister – that of chauvinism, a high-on-rhetoric Gujarati pride and an artificially constructed and constantly fanned opposition to the religious, regional and ideological “other”.

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december 13, 2008

EPW
Economic & Political Weekly

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