Hostility and acrimony have traditionally characterized relations between India and Pakistan, home to one-sixth of world population, who avoided full blooded- most likely nuclear-confrontation only years ago. Fortunately enough, things have changed substantially since then and saber rattling has been replaced by clamors for cooperation and peaceful settlement of issues. One prominent voice to press this need has been Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab, who incidentally also happens to be the brother of Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister. Ever since his visit to India in December of last year, who has supported on several occasions that India and Pakistan should bury the hatchet and concentrate on learning from the experiences of each other. Known more for his communal politics than being the prime ministerial candidate of the Indian opposition party, BJP, Narendra Modi, ironically can be one pertinent figure for Mr. Sharif to look towards for an example of good governance and grass root level development.
To begin with, Narendra Modi is in the news most of the time for negative reasons. The world condemned him for the Gujarat violence in 2002, which resulted in the killing of thousands of Muslims by fanatics Hindus when he was serving as the Gujarat Chief. As a result the United States imposed a travel ban on him, which remains in place. However, it is equally true that Gujarat, under his stewardship, has emerged as the most dynamic and rapidly growing industrial state in India. People like Mr. Sharif can certainly emulate Modi’s success to bring about a qualitative change in their respective domains.
While likely guilty for the Gujarat violence, Modi decided to turn over a new leaf after winning elections the next year. He geared all his energies to development politics while trying to distance himself from communal politics. Making a statement of intention, he showed the door to many hardcore fanatics from his inner circle, besides issuing directives to dismantle the over two hundred illegally constructed temples in his state.
It was an acknowledgment on his part that extremism and development can’t go hand-in-hand. Realizing that efficient governance is important he took a gigantic step, by interconnecting many administrative units through a network and digitalized departments related to taxation, revenue, electricity, transport, visas and the police. He believed that maximizing the interaction of public servants with the public was a key to keeping the corruption monster under control. Special Internet service centers were established to ensure that everyone has a direct access to these facilities. A step further, he developed a direct contact with officials across the state via videoconferences. It, in the final analysis, proved to be a highly efficient way to save public money otherwise incurred on traveling and security.
In order to address the fast receding groundwater level issue and to infuse a new life in the agriculture sector, he decided to build around a half a million dams across the state. Remaining empty most of the year, these dams proved a remarkable storage source in monsoon season, bringing the groundwater levels back up to a normal range in just a few years. It helped his government add 3.7 million hectares to the cultivable land area, in addition to increasing the micro-irrigation projects from just one thousand to 0.7 million. Gujarat is today the biggest exporter of cotton in the world.
To build up a formidable industrial base in the state, he introduced the slogan ‘red carpet, not red tape’ and removed all bureaucratic and procedural hurdles to investment in this sector. As a result foreign direct investment has risen to 15 percent of the total India receives in FDI. He is currently working on the Gujarat International Finance Tech City Project involving billions of rupees. After the completion of this project, Gujarat could possibly replace Mumbai and become the hub of financial activities in India.
As result of his policies, industrial and agricultural sectors last year registered an unprecedented growth rate of 13 percent and 10.7 percent, respectively. Similarly, Gujarat’s share of the total exports of India has climbed to 22 percent. Not to be overlooked is that the total population of Gujarat is just 5 percent of the overall population of India. In recognition of the achievements of Modi, the U.S. based, Congressional Research Service, declared Gujarat the best example of effective governance and development in 2011. “Seeking to overcome the taint of his alleged complicity in 2002 riots, Modi has overseen heavy investment in modern roads, power infrastructure and achieved an annual growth rate of more than 11 percent in recent years. Gujarat now accounts for more than one-fifth of India’s exports,” the report noted. Forbes India declared Gujarat the role model of governance in 2012. He has consistently been ranked as the best chief minister in India.
While emphasizing the need to learn from each other’s experiences, Shahbaz Sharif should take a leaf out of the success story of Modi and replicate his model in his province sooner rather than later. To begin with, he should also show the door to all those patronizing fanatics in Punjab for one reason or the other. His soft-handed approach to extremist outfits is slowly but surely tearing apart the social fabric of the province. The southern part of his province has allegedly become the bastion of several banned outfits who are wanted in a large number of terrorist activities. So much so, some of his cabinet members, including the law minister, are criticized widely for hobnobbing with a banned organization only to safeguard their immediate political interests. Shahbaz Sharif has to come to terms with the reality that without fixing such elements, he can’t have an environment of development and progress. Similarly, he should embrace the reality that without opting to implement e-governance, he can’t bring about real change across Punjab. He is serving his third term as chief minister in Punjab but with very little, if any, progress towards e-governance, which is efficient as well as cost effective.
Lastly, Punjab is the agricultural base of Pakistan but its productivity is no match to Gujarat. As witnessed in the Gujarat example, dams can do wonders to help address water shortage issue, besides giving a tremendous boost to yield production. According to a report by the Pakistan Agriculture Scientists Association (PASA), agriculture productivity during the previous government of Shahbaz Sharif declined in the Punjab, with mainstay wheat production falling by 9.7 percent. The same was the case with per acre yields plummeting by a horrifying 9.9 percent. The same was the case with maize, rice, sugarcane and cotton, which must be a great concern for food managers of the country as well.
Narendra Modi may not be a lovable character because of his past. But under him Gujarat has earned the distinction of being the fastest growing state of India. He has been quite aggressively referring to the changes Gujarat has undergone and staking a claim to the prime ministership because of the progress within Gujarat. His counterparts in Pakistan, especially Shahbaz Sharif, must pay due heed to his often-repeated quote, “minimum government, maximum governance.” The irony is that the personal staff of Modi comprises just three persons while Shahbaz Sharif must have lost the count. This underlines the fundamental difference between their approaches to efficient and cost-effective governance.