Debunking the "Gujarat model of development" propagated by the BJP, Sam Pitroda, who was instrumental in launching India's telecom revolution in the mid-1980s under then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, has said the state needs a bottom-up approach discarding the top-down method that favours only big corporates at the cost of poor and marginalised sections.
"Gujarat needs a Gandhian model of development bottom-up. Development should not be assessed in terms of how many lakhs or crores of rupees you can bring in as investment at global investors' conferences. It doesn't mean you dislike big corporates. But what will transform Gujarat is what do you do for the poor," Pitroda, who played a leading role in drafting the Congress manifesto for the Gujarat assembly elections, told IANS in an email interview from Illinois, US, where he lives.
The growth figures in terms of GDP look good, but what does it translate into for the ordinary Gujarati? asked Pitroda who is known to be close to the Gandhi family and played a pivotal role in organising Rahul Gandhi's recent visit and engagements in the US.
The former Telecom Commission Chairman, who extensively toured Gujarat last month and talked to various groups, said the state needs a new design of development as the gap between the haves and the have-nots has increased.
He said in the alternative narrative of governance in Gujarat, if the Congress comes to power, would be the creation of a Gujarat Advisory Council on the lines of the National Advisory Council which was initially formed during the time of the first United Progressive Alliance (UPA-I) government in 2004 and continued during UPA -II (2009-14) to properly guide the government for an egalitarian development model.
After interacting with farmers, Dalits, women, fishermen, traders and NGOs in Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar, Rajkot, Surat and Jamnagar, 75-year-old Pitroda, who also served as Chairman of the National Knowledge Commission (2005-09), a high-level body to advise the Prime Minister, said there is a tremendous discontent among the people of Gujarat.
After this exercise, he found "too much" privatisation of education, he said. Education, particularly in the engineering and medical streams, has become very expensive, adding that medical education can cost up to Rs 80 lakh.
The health sector is the most affected because there are no government doctors available in rural areas. Of the 4,500 doctors that pass out every year, only about 500 go to rural areas. The remaining pay a penalty of over Rs 10 crore to escape such stints.
"We need to make medical education affordable. We need doctors in rural areas so that the health system does not collapse," he said.
Referring to the plight of women, Pitroda said that they cannot file an FIR for any atrocity on them, though, on paper, they enjoy all rights. In rural areas, they walk four or five km to fetch water. There are four million single working women in the state and they don't have proper places to stay, he said.
Traders and small and medium entrepreneurs were groaning under the adverse impact of demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax (GST), he said. Banks are not giving them loans. They are ready to give loans to big corporates but not to small entrepreneurs. The focus is on big projects like that of Tata Motors.
"The farmers' complaints are that fertile lands are taken away from them with some compensation given. But after that no industry comes up on those lands. There is no economic profit for the local society," Pitroda said and cited the case of GIFT (Gujarat International Finance Tec-City), "which has huge area of land but just a couple of office buildings".
"Overall I found youth, women, farmers, Dalits and Muslims dissatisfied," Pitroda said, adding his interaction with these sections was an eye-opener on the flawed Gujarat model of development.
He also rebutted the BJP's criticism of the Congress for courting leaders of caste formations like Patidars, OBCs and Dalits, saying there is nothing wrong with this as each group is a constituency in a democracy which has a right to be heard and its grievances addressed. "They deserve attention. What is wrong in aligning with Patidars or other groups?" he asked.
He also attacked the tenor of the BJP campaign against the Congress, especially the attacks on Rahul Gandhi for his temple visits and about Indira Gandhi going to Morbi decades ago with her nose covered to avoid the stench of human bodies and animal carcasses in the wake of a dam disaster.
"These are not issues. These guys are focusing on non-issues," Pitroda maintained.