Union Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma seems to have committed a cardinal sin for a Congressman—to be seen to even remotely praise the “Gujarat model”. Earlier this week, an Accenture report that held Gujarat up as a role model for other states for its land acquisition track record and environmental licensing procedures made its way on to the department of industrial policy and promotion (DIPP) website. According to the cover letter of the study, Accenture was “engaged” by the DIPP—a fact that Sharma has now hotly contested in order to distance his ministry from the report. As he would, given Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi’s attempt to tarnish Narendra Modi’s development record by calling the Gujarat model the “toffee model” of development—alluding to allegations that the Gujarat government sold land to industry on the cheap. But if Sharma’s main rebuttal to the Accenture report is that it “was not commissioned by DIPP”, then the debate over the “toffee model” is well and truly closed. There could be no greater stamp of approval from Modi’s opposition.
Sharma could have pointed out that the other states that have been singled out as paragons are Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, both Congress states, and Rajasthan, which was also, until very recently, Congress-ruled. But perhaps these facts would have also inconveniently pointed toward the nonpartisan nature of the report. Or, the minister could have legitimately said that it was his ministry’s job to dispassionately seek ways to improve the investment climate in the country—especially when the World Bank Doing Business report has ranked India 134th out of 189 countries—whether that meant learning from an opposition party-ruled state or not.
Or, Sharma could have channelled the UPA’s economic godfather, Amartya Sen, and underscored that Gujarat’s social indicators aren’t in line with its superstar status. That its growth isn’t inclusive (whatever that means). But it seems that anything more than a flip flop is expecting too much of the minister.