In a series of seven short posts over at The Acorn I show how Tehelka juggled facts and figures in order to poke holes into the “Vibrant Gujarat” story. I’m posting the concluding piece of the series here, to summarise where we are at the end of our examination of Shivam Vij’s article.
There is no truth to his claim that Gujarat’s poverty reduction figures are the result of it shifting the goalposts. He presents insufficient evidence to prove his claim about the public health system’s failings. In contrast, the reduction in the infant mortality rate—the barometer of a public health system—suggests that public health delivery is likely to have improved. His argument on the widening rural-urban divide falls flat for want of evidence. He makes wrong associations to imply causal links between low agricultural productivity and a decline in the state’s production of foodgrains, while falling into the illiberal trap of denying farmers a way out of agriculture. He offers incomplete facts to mischaracterise Gujarat’s power sector, which happens to be among the best in the country. And he dismisses the state’s investment and employment record without bothering about such inanities as facts. We saw that the UPA government’s inability to reform India’s restrictive labour laws is hurting Gujarat’s ability to translate the investments it is attracting into more jobs for its people.
Shivam is on firmer ground on the Sardar Sarovar project: according to the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report, the state’s water authorities diverted water designated for “drought prone areas” to the urban areas of Gandhinagar. It is good to see Tehelka—whom one would usually associate with the anti-dam agitation—making these arguments. Similarly, Shivam might have a point when he talks about people displaced by development, underscoring the need for India to make its property rights regime more robust.
Where does this leave us? Well, that apart from some clever juggling of facts, Tehelka doesn’t really offer enough evidence to support its conclusion that Gujarat is ‘just another socio-economically vulnerable state’. The Congress party in Gujarat, Shivam writes, “wants ‘development’ to be the key issue in the elections”. More power to it. The interests of Gujarat’s electorate will be best served if it can present robust and well-supported arguments to argue where and how the state could have done better. Now that would cause some tehelka, wouldn’t it?