If the mood of the nation is any indication, Narendra Damodardas Modi could well be India’s next Prime Minister. However, it is important to evaluate what his legacy as the chief minister of Gujarat will be.

 Will Modi be remembered as a man who presided over the much-publicized Vibrant Gujarat summits or as someone who redefined agriculture or will it be his contribution towards addressing social indicators? The latter one would be ironic because the chief minister’s critics employ those very indicators as their main argument against Modi’s governance record.

My guess is that it will be for improving lives of millions of Gujaratis at the bottom of the economic pyramid in a myriad of ways, for ensuring that they have access to basics of life like education and healthcare. Modi’s critics will have to contend with the fact that he would go down in history as a social reformer and not just another politician!

Let us look at health first.

Gujarat’s infant mortality rate (IMR) was 69 in 1991, 60 in 2001 and 41 in 2011. The all-India IMR was 80 in 1991, 66 in 2001 and 44 in 2011.

In percentage terms, the all-India decline was more than Gujarat’s in the period between 1991-2001, but less than Gujarat’s during Mr Modi’s administration (in the period between 2001-2011).

Similarly, the all-India maternal mortality ratio (MMR) was 327 in 1999-2001 and 212 in 2007-09. The Gujarat MMR was 202 in 1999-2001 and 148 in 2007-09.

Did this happen on its own or did Mr Modi’s administration undertake some proactive measures? To put it bluntly, the answer depends on which side of the political divide you are on. The fact is that the Gujarat government under Modi identified the limitations of the public healthcare system it had inherited, both in terms of delivery of health services and availability of qualified medical practitioners. It chose to embrace public-private partnership models to deliver.

In 2006, the Gujarat government launched the Chiranjeevi Yojana. Under the programme, women below the poverty line could go to an empanelled hospital, including a private one, the cost of which would be borne by the government. The initiative was awarded the ‘Asian Innovation Awards’ by the Singapore Economic Development Board and Wall Street Journal in 2006.

The Gujarat government also launched the 108-ambulance service, which ensured pre-admission healthcare and transportation in a timely manner. Gandhinagar also launched the Bal Sakha Yojana, which brought pediatric care to children up to one year of age.

Critics argue that such a model undermines public healthcare administration. What they forget is that the system as it existed has been a failure to the detriment of the taxpayer economically as well as medically. Even if the point was conceded in principle, in the short term, the Gujarat model is better than no healthcare at all and the results are for all to see.

The story on education is only more encouraging.

The all-India literacy rate was 52.2% in 1991, 65.4% in 2001 and 74.0% in 2011. Gujarat’s literacy rate was 61.2% in 1991, 69.1% in 2001 and 79.3% in 2011.

In percentage terms, the all-India numbers improved more than in Gujarat in the period between 1991 and 2001 but fared worse in comparison when Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat.

For women, the all-India literacy rate was 39.3% in 1991, 54.2% in 2001 and 65.5% in 2011. For Gujarat, it was 48.9% in 1991, 57.8% in 2001 and 70.7% in 2011.  The numbers for women in Gujarat have, as has been seen in other social indicators, shown a sharp improvement during Modi’s tenure.

Similarly in 2011-12, the overall dropout rate in primary education (standard I-V) was 2.08% for girls and 2.05% for boys. In 2002-03, it was 19.14% for girls and 19.08% for boys.

Did Modi’s administration do something that led to significant improvements in the education indices? “Interestingly, while critics lay all blame at the administration’s doorstep for even the slightest blemish, they are reticent to give any credit for even the most impressive of improvements.

Every summer, the Chief Minister along with his state officials, travels from village to village and encourages parents to admit their children, girls in particular, to school. There is special emphasis on training teachers, which has resulted in better quality of education.

Modi’s personal focus on empowering the girl child and driving social consciousness against female foeticide, a deep-rooted problem in our society, has led to dramatic improvements in the sex ratio. In a sharp departure from political convenience, Modi hasn’t shied away from telling the numerically dominant communities in Gujarat that they also have some social responsibility in addressing the issue.

As a result, the sex ratio at birth for Gujarat stands at 909 in 2011, an impressive increase from the catastrophic 837 in 2001. Over the entire country, this figure was 894 in 2001 and 906 in 2011. Gujarat’s results would not have been possible without the positive, proactive, and persevering approach of its government.

It is important to realize that the Narendra Modi model of governance is a sharp departure from the state-driven, low-accountability socialist model that we have seen so far. The Gujarat model focuses on outcomes, and the mechanism and avenue of delivery – whether public or private – is based on the requirements of the individual project. Therefore, traditional parameters to evaluate government functioning, which rely almost entirely on public delivery channels, do not quite do justice to Gujarat.

This April-May, when we vote to decide our future, we need to ask if Narendra Modi is the man who can deliver for us. We have a choice – we can be pessimists and look at what else Modi could have done in Gujarat or we can acknowledge his impressive record of development he has promised and delivered to the millions of inhabitants of Gujarat.

This summer, either we will decide for our future generations or we will be hostage to our political biases. Which side will you be on?

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Amit Malviya

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