By Invitation: Post post-Godhra investments in Gujarat

It’s wrong to deny Gujarat’s economic achievements under Narendra Modi

By V Anantha Nageswaran

(In his recent Mint column, Salil Tripathi argued that it is “odd…to credit Modi with Gujarat’s vibrancy” and that “the colossal failure to protect civilians during the anti-Muslim violence in 2002″ disqualifies him from holding office. Now, Mr Tripathi is by no means a Leftist in denial mode, so the points he makes are worthy of debate and discussion, not least because Narendra Modi is perhaps the only unabashed champion of centre-right economic policies today. In his guest post V Anantha Nageswaran disputes Mr Tripathi’s conclusions. On this topic see my November 2007 series on Gujarat’s record under Modi, Mukul Asher’s article in the March 2008 issue of Pragati on the Gujarat development model, and Asher & Bali’s recent piece on the Vibrant Gujarat summit in DNA. -Ed)

The comments made by some businessmen that they would like to see Mr. Narendra Modi, the present Chief Minister of Gujarat, as India’s Prime Minister, have caused severe palpitations in some quarters. Reactions have been mostly emotional. The risk with such emotional reactions is that reason is lost and the protagonists find that their arguments suffer from intellectual sloppiness.

The contention is that post-post-Godhra (for many, Godhra begins with post-Godhra and not with Godhra itself), Mr Modi’s Gujarat (they are already conceding a point here) has suffered from a decline in investment projects under implementation.

There is an attempt to carefully pick one variable that they think has declined in Gujarat since 2002. Now, those who put forward this thesis have not cared to indicate the source of their data and its calculation.

A layperson like me wonders whether a State that drags its feet on implementing a project will always end up showing more investment projects under implementation than one that completes them. Delays in implementation have another advantage under this yardstick. The project cost swells. Investments under implementation would thus become larger. Even better. Therefore, it is not clear if this metric penalises those States that allow investments to be completed on time and within cost. We shall leave it at that.

The second fallacy is that there is a causality attributed to the post-Godhra riots and the drop in so-called “Projects under implementation”. A riot is a law and order situation. It is a qualitative variable. Investment under implementation is a quantitative variable. Now, it is not easy to attribute causality from a qualitative variable to a quantitative variable casually. There has to be some valid and robust survey methodology with statistically large sample size and whose responses—checked for consistency—point to a clear causal linkage between the riots and investment intentions and actual projects committed on ground in Gujarat. It is not clear if such a robust qualitative survey has led the proponents of the argument to reach a conclusion on causality.

At this stage, it is important for readers to remember that it has not even been established if the metric chosen is the correct one. We will return to that topic shortly. For now, we will accept their contention at face value.

Even then, to zero in on the riots as the potential cause for the decline in investments, they must control for other factors. That is, there were no other factors such a general decline in investment in other States due to other factors such as a temporary plateau in corporate profits or growth slowdown or a drought, etc. Supposing investment declined in all States in 2002 and in 2003, it will be difficult to attribute the decline in investment in Gujarat to post-Godhra riots.

Normally, serious researchers will develop a model of investment spending that is a function of profits, interest rates, national (or State) economic growth, etc. Depending on the exogenous values of these explanatory variables, they will try to arrive at an estimate of the investment spending in a State in a given year. If the actual investment spending turns out to be far less than what the model indicates, say, in Gujarat, and if investment spending in other States turns out to be in line with what the model indicates, then there is a preliminary case to be made that the riots have affected investment activity in the State.

This preliminary case gets stronger if it can also be proven that there is a ‘structural break’ in the investment flows before and after 2002 in Gujarat—one that does not occur in other States, according to the investment model so developed.

If such a case is made, then it will be possible to at least debate the contention that Gujarat suffered a decline in investment because of the riots.

Instead, a hasty rush to conclude that investments declines and that it was due to the riots creates the impression that the proponents have decided to discredit or dismiss the call by the businessmen for Mr. Modi to be the Prime Minister of the nation and looked around for arguments to bolster their prejudice.

Now, let us look at some objective facts. We go by the State of the States report published by India Today every year in September. The statements made below are based on the reports for 2006, 2007 and 2008. This analysis is done by Laveesh Bhandari and Bibek Debroy for India Today every year.

By 2006, over 85% of Gujarat’s villages are connected with all-weather roads – just four years ago, only 72% of the villages had such connectivity. This improved to 99% by the time the 2007 survey was done. When it comes to quality of roads, Gujarat ranks the best with 59% of the villages having roads with a width of 18 ft. or more.

A more ingenious achievement has been the Jyotirgram scheme under which every village in the State is to get 24-hour domestic power supply. Notwithstanding the government’s claim, the actual power supply is only for about 20 hours a day, which too is a boon for most people. Over 17,000 villages have been covered under the scheme.

The availability of power has triggered reversal of rural-urban migration. People are returning to villages from cities –many of them start their own small businesses. At 46.5 mega kilowatt per hour per one lakh population, Gujarat’s rural power consumption is next only to Punjab.

The State has done extremely well in port sector too. It has the maximum number of minor ports – 40 along the 1600 km coast.

At 3.91%, the annual average percentage growth in physical capital in the 1990s was the highest in Gujarat. Unsurprisingly, the % growth in the State attributable to physical capital growth (4.99%) was the highest in Gujarat among all the big States. [Physical capital index includes % growth in households electrified and % growth in road length and % growth in fixed capital spending].

At 2.66%, Gujarat was the last among big States in the annual average growth rate recorded in human potential in the 1990s. [Human capital index includes % growth in share of graduates in total population and % growth in share of 26-40 year old in population].

In the category called “Investment environment”, Gujarat held the first spot for three consecutive years from 2005 to 2007. It conceded the first place to Himachal Pradesh in the 2008 survey but the difference was marginal. [The “investment environment” category measures % of State GDP spent on administration, per capita capital expenditure, commercial bank credit, capital formation, number of factories and industrial disputes, sick small scale industries, number of industrial workers per urban population in 15-59 group].

In a category called “Infrastructure”, Gujarat was ranked 9th among 20 big States in 2006 and 2007, improving slightly to 8th position in 2008. This category measures % of households with electricity, % of villages connected with pucca roads (surfaced + unsurfaced), road length/population, no. of bank branches/population, no. of domestic LPG consumers/total households, no. of post offices/population, no. of telephone connections/population

Under a category called “Budget and Prosperity”, re-christened “Macro economy” in 2008, Gujarat was ranked no. 3 behind Punjab and Himachal Pradesh in 2007. It captured the first position in 2008. This category is based on urbanisation, 100-head count ratio (I do not know what this means), capital expenditure/population, GDP deflator (current GSDP/constant GSDP), per capita GSDP, total population/total debt, GSDP for electricity, gas and water supply (at current price)/population.

Finally and perhaps, most importantly, the annual average GDP growth in the decade of 1999-2008 in Gujarat was 8.8%, bettered only by the small States of Chandigarh (UT), Nagaland and Manipur. The comparable figure for the nation is 7.3%.
[According to the authors, these are trend growth estimates derived from the latest Central Statistical Organisation data]

Regardless of what the pundits think, the fact that businessmen who actually put money behind their mouths voice their preference. That should be more indicative of investment intentions than anything else. Ratan Tata moved his Nano factory to Gujarat when Mamata Banerjee forced him out of West Bengal. That is a powerful qualitative and yet substantive indicator.

I had a long chat with my friend Laveesh Bhandari. He said that on any quantitative parameter, it is hard to fault Mr Modi’s Gujarat. Enough said.

(These are Dr Anantha Nageswaran’s personal views)

22 Responses to By Invitation: Post post-Godhra investments in Gujarat

  1. B.O.K. 27th January 2009 at 09:35 #

    Agree with pretty much everything, but this..

    “A riot is a law and order situation. It is a qualitative variable.” and some of the stuff that followed

    .. was avoidable, IMO. Law and Order situation is not a qualitative variable. It can be quantified reasonably well. As a first measure, one could take a look at NCRB data. To cite just one (and meaningless without context) data point, between 1953 and 2007, there was a 191.9% increase in the number of riots in India. (Source: Crime in India – 2007, published by NCRB and available on their website). You could break it down further by looking at number of victims, duration of riots, apparent “causes” etc. You can create a composite crime index by combining stats for various types of crimes etc. You can quantify law and order as much as you want!

    I have no idea what the general law and order situation in Gujarat is like. And it would be too much to judge it on the basis of something that happened quite a while ago. So, I am not talking about Gujarat, but a general point: to suggest that law and order is some qualitative thing and very, very hard to correlate with investment environment in a State stretches my imagination. In fact, I would expect poor law and order to have a negative impact on investment because poor law and order would imply that a businessman’s property, or the life and liberty of his employees could be safer elsewhere (other factors remaining equal). Surely that kind of factor enters a businessman’s calculations. If not, I have an excellent investment opportunity for you in Afghanistan..

  2. Oldtimer 27th January 2009 at 10:27 #

    Salil Tripathi’s argument is political, with little factual substance by way of supporting economic data to buttress his point that Modi doesn’t deserve credit for Gujarat’s economic progress. Supposing his argument was that Modi is falsely credited for Gujarat’s growth, stealing the thunder that should have gone to his predecessors (who, it could have been argued, planted the seeds that bore fruit during Modi’s time, as in the first two years of UPA rule, for example). In the absence of such an argument, resenting Modi’s popularity across a large section of the society — including of course industrialists — borders on churlishness.

    Political arguments are best settled by democratic and constitutional means. Modi has been vindicated on both counts. The democratic process returned him to office twice with thumping majorities. The constitutional process — the Nanavati-Shah commission — absolved him of any wrong-doing. In the light of these facts, to insist that the claims of human rights activists (often politically motivated — refer to news reports that Setalvad’s outfit, along with CPIM, paid “witnesses” in riot cases to appear in court) are gospel truth is to show scant regard to democratic and constitutional means, and to confer on the said activists the right to mock at the latter.

    Finally, to further bring out the essentially political nature of Salil’s argument: 3000 Sikhs were butchered in Delhi ’84, not a single shot was fired by the police. Running for LS elections in 1999, Manmohan Singh claimed that it was not his Congress party that was responsible for these killings, but his rival the RSS. He lost that election (largely because Sikhs turned out in large numbers to vote him, it is said). Yet, still unelected in any popular election, he continues to be the nation’s prime minister today, with no resistance whatsoever from human rights outfits.

  3. Oldtimer 27th January 2009 at 10:30 #

    Correction:

    largely because Sikhs turned out in large numbers to vote him OUT…

  4. Oldtimer 27th January 2009 at 10:49 #

    Investment also flows to where there are skilled and literate workers. Gujarat’s achievement in the education sector is not noted in the India Today article quoted by Nageswaran. Quite recently for example:

    ” AHMEDABAD: Gujarat, which was ranked 16th in India in terms of its rural education seven years ago has climbed up to the fourth position, says an
    assessment by The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM). ”

    Surveys show that the higher the rate of literacy of a demographic segment, the greater the probability that it votes BJP. In that sense, it can be said that Modi has developed a “vested interest” in educating the people of his state. But isn’t it desirable that politicians develop that sort of vested interest, instead of, say, seeing percentage in keeping their voters poor and illiterate?

    Chidambaram has been levying an Education Cess for five years now. What has come of it? How much progress has been made in primary and secondary education in the country in these five years?

  5. DK 27th January 2009 at 11:38 #

    I will just copy and paste the comment I made on the Mint site

    “Dear Salil, I appreciate your efforts in taking time to respond to the comments. That is very commendable. Do you have the data from 1995 till 2002? I would like to see if the data was trending downwards since then or did it have a sudden dip in 2002. Another point to remember is that the period was also a time where the economic condition was not all that good following the dot com boom. I checked the Beacon site and apparently they want Rs 5000 for the access. Would you be able to share the data from 1995 till 2001 please?”

    From what I have seen of Gujarat when I went in 2001 and what I saw a year back, there has been major improvement. I see demonisation of Modi happening everywhere and while I have not been able to make up my mind of his culpability in the Riots, I believe he has been instrumental in improving Gujarat by leaps and bounds.

  6. Anantha Nageswaran 27th January 2009 at 15:21 #

    I just would like to clarify that the point is not to say that law and order does not affect investment spending in a particular geographical unit. That is not what is being said. It is not easy to attribute causality so casually as is being done by some of the critics. That is very different from saying no causality exists. It is not easy but possible to prove that law and order situation affects investment flows provided one analyses and investigates objectively and allow the data to speak for their hypothesis.

  7. Oldtimer 27th January 2009 at 16:46 #

    Comparisons should help. Delhi 1984 and Gujarat 2002. Is there an identical pattern in the investment inflows in these two cases?

    Empirical evidence (eg: Nano) suggests that the kind of “law and order” that investors fear in their geographies of investment is somewhat different from what Guj and Delhi went through. Investors would be interested in, I assume, a track record of industrial peace in the area of investment. Peace in industry is impacted by the larger law and order situation around it, but the latter would scare investors away only if they thought that the said situation is endemic to the area, since no part of India is stranger to such situations.

  8. B.O.K. 27th January 2009 at 17:06 #

    @Oldtimer:

    “Political arguments are best settled by democratic and constitutional means.”

    I would tend to agree with this if not for the fact that Post-84 elections threw up the largest ever INC majority with a turnout of over 60% (wikipedia). Didn’t settle the argument one bit.

    So, if you ask me, Mr. Anantha Nageswaran is using the right track to refute Mr. Salil Tripathi’s arguments. Except that I wish he had used a slightly different language to get his point across. A lot of people stop paying attention when they hit too many chosen matrices, controlled variables, exogenous values and such like. To that extent, I think you are right.. it was a political argument that needed to be argued less statistically.

  9. Salil Tripathi 27th January 2009 at 19:48 #

    Thanks for this discussion, and for Anantha’s response. Obviously, I do not share my fellow-Mint columnist Anantha’s conclusions, but I will be able to provide a more detailed response only after Friday, as I am on other deadlines this week. Meanwhile, as one of the respondents (DK) on this site has mentioned a point raised by him re my Mint column on its website, I’m taking the liberty of sharing my reply there, here, to clarify any misunderstanding.

    Thanks;

    Salil
    —–

    Dear D., Thanks for your kind words and request. I will have to ask CMIE if I can post the entire chart in public domain. It is a copyright-protected material, presumably, and they have good reasons for keeping the firewall. (Disclosure: I paid to get access to the data).

    What I can say is this: Gujarat was in the 13% range till mid-96, then began to fall slowly. Maharashtra caught up with it in Dec 97, and led Gujarat by between one and two percentage points till March 2002. (Godhra was Feb-March 2002). Gujarat’s share fell below 10% in Sept 02 (these are quarterly figures) and since then its share has remained in single-digit, occasionally leading the country, but usually ranked second or third, behind states that keep varying.

    What one can conclude from that is that towards the end of 90s, Maharashtra gained a bigger share than Gujarat; between June and Sept 02 Gujarat’s share began to decline (compared with other states – addition mine, not on Mint’s site). Since 05-06, it has started regaining ground, but it is nowhere near its earlier leadership.

    Thanks; Salil

  10. Oldtimer 27th January 2009 at 22:35 #

    The question (raised by Anantha) on the validity of the metric chosen by Salil apart, there’s another small flaw in the latter’s argument.

    Most Indian corporates’ budgeting practice is aligned with the financial year, which ends on March 31st. Typically, investment decisions taken during a financial year start to be funded during the course of the next year. Salil argues that investments in Gujarat started dipping in Sep 2002. That’s too close for the alleged consequence of the riots to register on investments.

    Perhaps the devastating earthquake of 2001 explains this dip better than the riots that occurred much later? Modi is not known to have caused this quake though. :)

  11. Sud 28th January 2009 at 07:44 #

    Interesting discussion.

    Kudos.

  12. Chandra 28th January 2009 at 22:02 #

    I had similar though as DK after reading about Sri Tripathi article at Ajay Shah’s blog. I am curious if Salil dug deeper into the numbers of 2002 and beyond. Did a major investment project complete in 2002 or was it really industrialists believing the psec media’s Modi bashing to make investment decisions.

    As far as I know companies don’t make decision on projects because of one incident. There has to be a consistent and lasting pattern that adversely impacts investment projects. I don’t even know why Godhra killings and subsequent riots are even unique in our history. Unless all the investors were anti-BJP candle lighting vigilantes, I doubt any single riot would have impacted investments in Gujarat. If anything anti-non-Maratha sentiment was prominent in Maharashtra and Mumbai for years – that would have played bigger role in slowing down investments.

    I suppose five years from now, we will be told any dip in investments in India in 2009 was not due to global slow down or dip in national growth rate but because of India’s response to Pakistani sponsored Islamic terror carnage in Mumbai. We already know Islamic terror itself is legitimate and does not impact investment – five years of terrorists bombing throughout the big cities in India, when the economy was doing well, is proof of that. And the obvious conclusion would probably be more appeasement of terror sponsors, lest it impacts investment.

  13. Sud 28th January 2009 at 23:17 #

    I am also waiting to see statistical and other objective evidence that the 2002 riots significantly if not systematically eroded Gujrat’s investment attractiveness, competitiveness, socioeconomic indices and opportunity, as well as administrative efficiency / competence.

    What I’ve heard so far is some variant of
    “Trust me, I’m telling you its eroded based on data I saw but can’t share”
    or
    “The numbers show Guj is in the bottom half of the big 20 states in xyz but can’t remember the source onlee”.

    I’m not saying Shri Salil is using these lame excuses. I’m also not not saying that there is such an impression forming up when reading his article and responses.

    Given that the ruling political and media establishment have vigorously and repeatedly attacked the Gujrat govt since 2002 (and lost everytime their strength was tested – in a court of law, at the hustings and admist hard-nosed big business investors), how can their protestations be taken for truth?

    Hey, standard disclaimers hold. Just my 2 paise onlee.
    /Have a nice day, all.

  14. Michael Marcus 29th January 2009 at 17:52 #

    I live in a part of the U.S. where NRI Gujjus, many themelves with higher education degrees but also long established here in hospitality (motel), petrol, convenience store, fast food, and jewelry, tobacco, liquor businesses with highly educated sons and daughters entering ranks of professional workforce: stereotypically pharmacy, MDs and engineers of all kinds, even expanding into higher tiers of hotel/motel chain industry. There has been a selective chain migration largely from Surat involving mostly PATELS/PATIDARS and to a lesser extent Shahs and Desais. There appear to be periodic, regular turnovers of small properties to relatives coming over from Gujarat (or from E. Africa, Canada, or the UK) and operating on a kinship/family type economic system based on honor or “iswaas” and “abru” (?). And ties with relatives in Gujarat are strongly maintained. BAPS and the other Swaminarayan sampradya have grown accordingly, while the only other major local temple tries a “pan-Hindu” approach, with murtis of all major deities, because there are plenty of non-Gujarati NRIs around working in other areas (stereotype: Telugus and Tamils and Karnataka people in IT, for major corporations) and also Gujaratis who do not accept the theology of Swaminarayan. Thus there are splits in the NRI community, with the Gujjus seemingly set apart from the rest in a number of ways,not just religious. In short, the local NRIS seems as divided as their Indian counterparts. I understand that Modi and BJP are overwhelmingly popular in Gujarat, and VHP is VERY ACTIVE here in the area of cultural reproduction given parental fears that their ABCD kids will stray from their roots. No adult educated individual will openly say anything extremely prejudicial about Muslims,because they understand such discourse doesn’t go over well in the U.S., but I have yet to see ANY meaningful or substantial degree of Muslim participation in any of the public events organized by the various samajs and other associations. Gujjus also see themselves as Americans but in explicitly RELIGIOUS rather than RACIAL terms, despite how most other Americans (utterly ignorant about India) see them. I sometimes hear, openly and without hesitation, anti-Muslim and even anti-Gandhi/Nehruvian, pro-Sardar Patel pro-Modi sentiments. But the parental generations’ main concern seems to be socio-cultural in the American context, rather than political in the Indian context. They are concerned with who their sons and daughters marry, and as for India they are concerned for sure with the eco development of Gujarat. They are being wooed by Modi to invest in Gujarat and tired of having to put up with American academics/leftists constantly beating the Godhra drum, which doesn’t necessarily mean that they “approve” of what happened in Ahmedabad 2002. They have turned Diwali into a Christmas-like holiday and their major yearly event are Navaratri garbas Gujarati style, at which MOST men appear in just regular Western style pants and shirts, while NO FEMALE is ever seen not in saree or salwar kameez and assorted Gujarati / Rajasthani type accroutrements of beauty. In fact, no female of Indian origin is EVER seen at ANY public event not in traditional clothing. Clothing appears to be a major cultural means for the reproduction of tradition and identity, but the weight falls more on females than on males. I also notice that the younger females pay attention to Hindi cinema and music, while the boys avoid standing out or being associated with it. I have also heard complaints to the effect that “all the stars are Muslim.” I also understand that present global eco problems have negatively impacted diamond industry in Surat to a very considerable degree. So why am I posting this comment, these questions? I am curious to know the following and find it difficult to get solid answers: (1) to what extent does Congress and the ideals of genine pluralism and Gandhian tolerance still have credibility or “traction” or a following in Gujarat? (2) is BAPS the spearhead of Gujarat’s saffronization, though they will never state anything political overtly, and is that why Akshardham was attacked as revenge for Godhra? BAPS devotees tell me that “santos” make it clear during “shibirs” of their disapproval of Gandhi and Nehru’s dynasty (the latter easier for me to comprehend) but I find it hard to understand why they would reject their state’s legacy to being home to the father of the nation, himself a renunciate — perhaps it was his additon of the word “Allah” to the “ragupati” bhajan? wasn’t that really at the root of what got him assassinated? Has Gopal been, in the popular imagination, “rehabilitated”??? (3) do “Gujjus” suffer from a negative stereotype in India generally, not just because of Godhra: to use an analogy, are they “the Jews of India” in a sense, because of their stereotypical thrift, insularity, other idiosyncracies? (4) I am workng on a paper/presentation in the disicipline of World History in which I am trying to tie the threads of Gujarati history/textile production, Hindu traditions generally, Gujarati identity in diaspora particularly, and what appears, at least for Gujjus, to be a highly conservative and strongly gendered reinvention of tradition and identity here in the US (textile pun intended). They are, in a sense socially and cognitively dwelling on a Gujarati island in a sea of American freedom. OK, so I have shared a few thoughts and observations from this side of the world,a bit incoherently, I admit, but I would be VERY grateful for anyone to reply to any of my questions or comments in a way that will help me gain a better understanding of current developments, both in Gujarat and in the Gujarati diaspora, better. I definitely want to avoid “tainting” Gujarat with the tragic events of 2002 and the ideology of some extremists, but to tell you the truth, I am not sure of whether that is entirely true or not. In other words, is Gujarat in fact, as its haters proclaim, a “laboratory” for fostering communal hatred and fascism? Is Narendra Modi as popular at the national level and does he have a real chance to become PM? To what extent is the VHP vision of India’s history and culture widespread throughout India? I need to know if what I am observing here is a peculiarly Gujarati phenomenon, or much much bigger at the national level in India. And thank you for reading all of this babble, and for any help you may give!!! Michael Marcus, residing in Connecticut, USA — spent the summer in India in 2006 and know many Gujaratis.

  15. Mallikarjuna 29th January 2009 at 23:41 #

    Quick, name 3 chief ministers of Gujrat, before Modi.
    (Tuff isn’t it). I myself could muster three names with great difficulty.
    Keshu bhai Patel, …chiman bhai patel, ….. Hitendra Desai.

    Isn’t it obvious, that when somebody is hugely popular, people feel elated.
    Modi, is popular. Gujarati’s are proud of him.
    Why do press-people keep questioning/harking on Modi’s popularity?

    Sitting in Bangalore and typing with my UPS ON (No power from past 15 minutes), I wish, I could have 24 Hour power connection.
    if Modi can give me uninterrupted power, I’m for him.

    Are we to believe Keshu Bhai Patel, who was ousted was better than Modi?

    My 2 cents are probably, Given facilities and left to themselves, people will prosper, with or without Modi. Might be Modi is able to facilitate better than others and hence, people (Industrialists, Voters) are adoring him.

    I find it a bit surprising, why Modi alone is tied with Godra? Weren’t there others involved?

    V P Singh is not remembered for All-India riots (Mandal Report Violence)
    Rajiv Gandhi is not, why this man.

    B Raman mentions Modi doesn’t care much for press-persons. Might be that is irksome :)

    It would be interesting, what would be thoughts about Modi, 5 years down the line.
    Will he be remembered for fining lakhs of power-consumers or for giving 24 hour power?

    Thanks,
    MSJ.

  16. socal 30th January 2009 at 03:18 #

    Hi Mr. Marcus,

    To be honest, I doubt you’re seeking any real input apart from a reaffirmation of your notions of the Gujarat issue. But there are some questions, including the rhetorical ones, you raise that have rather mundane explanations, though I’m not surprised you missed them. I think it’s rather a function of educational prejudices, and not cultural differences.

    “They have turned Diwali into a Christmas-like holiday and their major yearly event are Navaratri garbas Gujarati style,”

    In India, Diwali is a huge holiday for everyone, and, as such, it does involve major celebrations. Certainly this was not out of any desire to upstage the Christmas celebrations in India, which remain relatively modest, nor to rival the Xmas in Western countries. I have never seen Christmas being celebrated on a public scale as Diwali is celebrated in India. Rather than “turning Diwali into a Christmas-like holiday” it’s a simple case of indulging nostalgia by importing the form and scale of celebrations, as is done back home.

    ” at which MOST men appear in just regular Western style pants and shirts, while NO FEMALE is ever seen not in saree or salwar kameez and assorted Gujarati / Rajasthani type accroutrements of beauty. In fact, no female of Indian origin is EVER seen at ANY public event not in traditional clothing. Clothing appears to be a major cultural means for the reproduction of tradition and identity, but the weight falls more on females than on males.”

    If we indeed hold your line of reasoning, then we’ve got to simultaneously ask and answer a baffling question, which should be obvious since it emanates directly from a western prejudice, namely, wearing western dresses is somehow deemed assertion of independence. Not just in US, but even in urban India, which Gujarat mostly is, wearing of western outfits, by both sexes, has become ubiquitous. Now, why will women who are so strong and “independent” year round will suddenly turn around and become submissive enough to carry the “cultural weight” on these day alone? Unless of course you’re accusing Indian/Hindu parents of hypocrisy on certain days of the yr. by thrusting “cultural weight” on the females. Or a case of vast Hindu parental conspiracy?!

    Since “NO FEMALE” wears a non-”traditional” outfit (why not just say Western? Does saying so look bad??) during social functions, as you claim, that also means women from different social strata confirm to this norm. Which also means that women, some of whom may be executives, lawyers, doctors, bankers etc., willingly abandon their vaunted western independence
    and conscript themselves into the folds of that vast conspiracy you seem to notice again and again.

    The rather mundane answer I believe is societal considerations of beauty and nothing more. Men put a premium on comfort, and women are usually concerned with looking beautiful. Women might be imitating their peers and their comfort level, and the urge to fit in, might make them take to traditional attire, while this pressure is not so prevalent among men. This is normal cutting across cultural divides, but then sociology types usually cling to cultural stereotypes like economically distressed do to guns and religion.

    “I also notice that the younger females pay attention to Hindi cinema and music, while the boys avoid standing out or being associated with it.”

    Again, rather than being a corollary of gender bias (which seems to be the basis of your cloying thesis), it is in keeping with common behavioral norms. Girls are more attentive to Hindi films for the seem reason that chicks flock around chick flicks. Hindi films–if you’ve watched any–are a mishmash of melodrama, family-films, and light comedies. Girls, in India, under no pressure whatsoever to carry the “cultural weight,” continue to be fixated to the simple escapist love themes of Hindu movies, while the audience for Western special-effects blockbusters is predominantly male, even in US. Ask Paul Dargarabadien, if you don’t trust me.

    “I have also heard complaints to the effect that “all the stars are Muslim.””

    I don’t understand why you deem this to be a complaint. It is a fact that most Hindi movie stars today are Muslim. I would like to know the context in which you “heard” your “complaint.” Again, the reason Muslims are predominant as actors can be explained by a rather insipid fact that the movie scripts have Urdu dialogues– a language rich in Arabic, and widely spoken among Muslim households. Another plausible, but seamier, and unsavory, reason is that movie industry, because of govt’s socialist policies was deprived of industry-style fundraising and bank loans for a long time. Many producers, dependent on govt. largesse, and unsatisfied with it, turned to underworld for funding options. The local mafia, as is quite well-known, is heavily dominated by Muslims. This is not to diminish or underestimate the talents of Muslim actors, but a multitude of rational explanations should inevitably include these, too.

    I wish you best of luck in your endeavor, btw. Hopefully, you’ll be able to produce something reasonable that doesn’t simply add itself to the ‘More of the same’ pile.

  17. Michael Marcus 30th January 2009 at 10:34 #

    Dear Socal, Well I must thank you for being the only one who replied to my post but I am baffled at your remarks regarding “cloying” and “more of the same.” I AM seeking input, not merely re-affirmations of what I think is true, as attested by the half dozen or so questions in my post. You have not suggested an answer or addressed a single one of them. Please do not take this as a criticism, however. I am struggling to develop an idea that is far from “more of the same”, by which I think you mean the imposition of western understandings, expectations, demands upon those who are not western, or reading too much into behavior, or trying to bash Gujarat. I have heard Gujarat bashed, both in India and here, by non-Gujaratis. I have on the other hand also heard Gujaratis say outrageous things about Muslims, and from “the other side” there is plenty of “beating the Godhra drum” to go around, both in academia and other outlets. I am trying to draw some conclusions out of all this. The complaint about “most actors being Muslim” came out of the mouth of a young man just returned from a VHP summer camp. He also said “maybe their God doesn’t exist”, and when I pointed out to him that he was saying that therefore the God of the Jews and Christians also may not exist he was embarrased because he said it in the presence of many Christian people, and maybe he had what we call an “ahah” moment around here. I am glad that he is a proud Hindu, but he I think he is unaware of how most (prejudiced and ignorant) Americans react, at a superficial level, to Hindu “idol worship.” These are not prejudices I share. As for clothing, of course there is no reason whatsoever why Indians of any gender living anywhere shouldn’t wear the most beautiful clothing in the world. But “carrying cultural weight” means something much different in a diaspora context, I think, than in India. And that is the thesis that I am trying to develop, which I take you believe to be utterly trite or unfounded. However, based on (the admittedly little) that I have observed so far, clothing plays a significant role in presenting what one author has called “the public face of Hindus” to Americans generally as hey strive to,in the words of another author, find “their place at the multicultural table.” I find that fascinating. Several dozen surveys I conducted among young professionals led to my statement about females feeling pressure to stay “traditional” and therefore, in the AMerican context, “less free”. I didn’t pull it out of thin air or any assumptions about “traditional India” or gender roles. I would ask that you consider the possibility of it having been cross-culturally demonstrated that the weight of such reproduction tends indeed, to fall more upon females almost universally. Thank you for the insight into funding sources for Bollywood as one possible reason for why so many Muslim actors; it is not simply the VHP-inspired complaint that I have in mind, I also hear from that the movies are to be avoided because they would then tend to see celebrities as idols and gods for darshan. Please keep in mind that you are corresponding with someone who knew nothing about any of this until within the past two years. And I have seen several dozen Hindi films. Perhaps the questions I ask are too sensitive, or the answers not available. So, sorry. Now I have to look up “cloying” because it sounds insulting. But really, thanks for your effort.

  18. Opinionated 30th January 2009 at 17:03 #

    I think Mr. Nagaeswaran & Laveesh Bhandari don’t read the right newspapers, blog posts and links to reports.

    There’s asatya & there’s ardhsatya, but I thought you guys would be interested in the Satya

  19. Oldtimer 30th January 2009 at 18:23 #

    Socal,

    Well argued.

    >>Men put a premium on comfort, and women are usually concerned with looking beautiful. Women might be imitating their peers and their comfort level, and the urge to fit in, might make them take to traditional attire

    There are several plausible explanations for this phenomenon, apart from the stereotypical one that Marcus thought up:

    1. Quality, traditional, women’s Indian clothing is super-expensive and it shows. So on festive days, women show off. Note that they wear jewelery too on that day. Generally it is not in men’s nature to show off wealth through attire. They do that by showing off their beautiful wives radiating in their beautiful, stratospherically priced kanjeevarams. :-)

    2. Women are also taking to western clothing for reasons of physical comfort, not necessarily because they believe they are perceived any less beautiful in traditional clothing. On festive days, they make a trade-off in favor of looking good the traditional way, over comfort.

    3. Women love tradition more than men do. Festive day dressing up is their concession to tradition, which otherwise they are compelled to ignore in their daily life. (Especially in the west, where wearing skirts to work may be necessary on account of women’s clothing options there having evolved in response to conditioning by male dominance of _those_ societies. )

  20. Oldtimer 30th January 2009 at 18:38 #

    Oops, a fourth one:

    4. Perhaps Indian women’s festival dressing is indicative of a period of transition that their clothing choices are going through. Perhaps men’s attire too, which was westernized much earlier , (for the educated middle class, during the Raj itself) went through similar transformation, with traditional dressing relegated only to special occasions. In fact, traditional male clothing is not completely given up, it is just that the occasions on which it is used (weddings, pujas) are fewer than those on which females go native.

  21. Opinionated 1st February 2009 at 19:46 #

    Hey Moderator…

    Why aren’t you publishing my comment? Scared huh?

    I’m re-submitting please: :-)

    Socal…
    Can I just ask you this please:
    Why is every right-winger I come across so terribly misinformed???
    a) Why do movie scripts have Urdu dialogues?
    b) Are script-writers also predominantly Muslim?
    c) Isn’t Urdu a language that developed in India? Isn’t it widely spoken in Punjab???
    d) Wasn’t Munshi Premchand one of the finest exponents of Urdu in his time???
    e) Why don’t we have more Urdu speaking Sardarjis dominating Bollywood???
    f) Isn’t Urdu far more Persian than Arabic???
    By the warped logic of your twisted mind, every top movie producer & financer should be a moslem underworld connected chap.
    So RK Studios, Yashraj Films, BR Films, Dharma Productions, Mukta Arts etc. are all moslem owned I presume…?
    And 4 Khans & a Hashmi dominate Bollywood?
    The Megastar isn’t a Bachchan? And his son still doesn’t count does he, despite Dhoom, Bluffmaster, Guru etc?
    And Roshan, Bhatia (Kumar), Kapoor, Devgan etc. are all moslem names I’m assuming…!
    And the actresses don’t need to speak at all I guess, so their knowledge of Urdu doesn’t matter. That should explain Kajol, Rani, Juhi, Madhuri, Sridevi, Hema, Priyanka Chopra, Lara Dutta, Kareena etc.
    And it’s Katrina’s fluency in Urdu that makes her one of our top actresses, right…?

    …can be explained by a rather insipid fact that the movie scripts have Urdu dialogues– a language rich in Arabic, and widely spoken among Muslim households.

    Pataa nahi kahaan kahaan se log aa jaate hain…!!!

    PS: You may want to rethink the

    Hindu movies

    that you mention. :-)

  22. Opinionated 2nd February 2009 at 15:49 #

    Moderator,

    Thank you for letting me have my say.

More in Economy, Public Policy (206 of 900 articles)


Independent opinion journals and their editorial orientation Over at The Awkward Corner, Niranjan Rajadhyaksha pays tribute to Sachin Chaudhuri, founder ...