If Gujarat is a model, then the real toppers in development indicators, like Kerala and Tamil Nadu, must be supermodels

In an earlier article published on this page (“The Gujarat Muddle,” April 11, 2014), I pointed out that Gujarat’s development achievements were hardly “model” class. This is pretty firm ground: the same point has been made by a long list of eminent economists. Yet confusion persists, so I decided to take another look at the data, just in case I had been carried away.

Summary indexes

This time I looked at a bunch of summary indexes based on multiple development indicators. One advantage of summary indexes is that they make it harder to “cheat” by focussing selectively on particular indicators that happen to suit one’s purpose. The Human Development Index (HDI) is a good starting point. The latest HDI computations for Indian states, presented by Reetika Khera and myself in Economic and Political Weekly, place Gujarat in the 9th position among 20 major States — very close to the middle of the ranking. In the same paper, we also looked at a summary index of child well-being, nicknamed Achievements of Babies and Children (ABC), which is based on four indicators related to child nutrition, survival, education and immunisation respectively. In the ABC ranking, too, Gujarat occupies the 9th position among 20 major States.

Another useful summary index is the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI). Briefly, the idea is that poverty manifests itself in different kinds of deprivation — lack of food, shelter, sanitation, schooling, health care, and so on. Starting with a list of basic deprivations, a household is considered “poor” if it has more than a given proportion (say one third) of these deprivations. There is some inevitable arbitrariness in the specification of basic deprivations, but nevertheless, the MPI is a very useful supplement to other poverty indicators. In the latest MPI ranking of Indian States, by Sabina Alkire and her colleagues at Oxford University, Gujarat comes 9th (again) among 20 major Indian States.

A new entrant in this family of summary statistics is the Composite Development Index devised by the Raghuram Rajan Committee. This index has ten components related to per capita consumption, household amenities, health, education, urbanisation, connectivity, financial inclusion, and so on, based on the latest available data. Looking at the list of component indicators, an unsuspecting reader of the mainstream media might expect Gujarat to emerge pretty close to the top of the State ranking. Alas, not. Here again, Gujarat scores 9th among 20 major States!

There is something almost uncanny about this pattern, since the summary indexes are based on very different indicators. And it’s not that I am selectively focussing on particular rankings where Gujarat happens to rank 9th out of 20. I have reported all the recent summary indexes I know of. If you don’t like them, we can always fall back on the Planning Commission’s standard poverty estimates based on per capita expenditure. But then Gujarat slips from the 9th to the 10th position among 20 major States, according to the latest estimates for 2011-12.

The Raghuram Rajan Committee also devised another interesting index: the Performance Index, which captures the progress that States are making over time in terms of the Composite Development Index. This is an important indicator, because some proponents of the Gujarat model argue that what we should look at is not the level of Gujarat’s development indicators, but how they change over time. And that is precisely what this index does. Further, it focusses on performance in the decade of the 2000s, when Gujarat was supposed to be at its best. Surely, Gujarat will fare well this time? On the contrary, it slips from 9th to 12th in the ranking of 20 major States.

In short, whichever way we look at it, Gujarat looks less like a model State than a “middle State” — far from the bottom in inter-State rankings, but far from the top too. If there is a Gujarat model, then there must also be a Haryana model and perhaps a Karnataka model. Incidentally, Maharashtra does better than Gujarat on all the summary indexes mentioned earlier. Why, then, is Gujarat held as a model and not Maharashtra? Your guess is as good as mine.

If Gujarat is a model, then the real toppers, like Kerala and Tamil Nadu, must be supermodels. Indeed, not only do Kerala and Tamil Nadu routinely come at — or near — the top in rankings of summary development indexes, they also surpass other States in terms of the speed of improvement. For instance, Kerala and Tamil Nadu do better than any other major State in terms of both level and change of the Composite Development Index. Of course, if you believe the touching story whereby Kerala’s achievements are actually based on the Gujarat model, then we are back to square one.

Why this image?

An interesting question arises: how did Gujarat acquire an inflated image? No doubt, this optical illusion partly reflects Narendra Modi’s outstanding ability to confuse the public (with a little help from his admirers in the economics profession). But perhaps it also has something to do with the fact that our perception of India is over-influenced by the large north Indian States — the former “BIMARU” States, which have dismal infrastructure, awful public services, and abysmal social indicators. Gujarat certainly shines in comparison — but so do many other States.

Mind you, the “G spot” (9th out of 20) may be auspicious. The number nine, according to Wikipedia, “is revered in Hinduism and considered a complete, perfected [sic] and divine number.” The Chinese, for their part, associate the number nine with the dragon, “a symbol of magic and power,” which also “symbolises the Emperor.” If the numerologists got this right, NaMo is well placed.

(Jean Drèze is Visiting Professor at the Department of Economics, Ranchi University. )

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