Poor educational standards in Gujarat? It’s because private schools are not “encouraged” enough: elite NGO

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Why is Gujarat so “backward” in education? Blame it on government schools, and promote private schools. This is the new mission sought to be put forward by one of the most high profile education advocacy groups, Pratham, which has stolen the limelight all over India for its work with policy makers for the last about eight years. This, apparently, is the only reason why, it indicates (but does not say so directly referring to the state), that Gujarat’s educational standards are so poor. And, it seems to believe, it is not government schools which can come to the children’s rescue but only a rigorous emphasis on private schools. 
According to Pratham’s Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), brought out by Pratham on January 15, 2014, Gujarat’s performance in ensuring admission to its rural children at the primary level is worse than 11 out of 20 major states. While a mere three per cent Gujarat children in the age-group were recorded as “out of school”, only eight states performed worse than Gujarat on this score. Worse, the ASER found that the situation deteriorated for the girls in the age group 15-16 (higher secondary level), Gujarat’s 29.7 per cent girls were “out of school” compared to all other 19 major states (click HERE for details). 

The Pratham survey, which becomes the basis of the national policy makers to push through their educational programmes, also found that in quality of education, too, Gujarat has performed equally badly. Thus, it reveals that Gujarat’s 26.8 per cent of children studying in classes VI to VIII could do division sums, which is lower than all other states but two – Madhya Pradesh and Assam. Further, children of just four states studying in classes III to V were worse performers than Gujarat in carrying out subtractions. 
Things would not have been so bad, ASER tries to imply, had Gujarat emphasized on private schooling in rural areas. In rural Gujarat, 15.1 per cent children in the age group 6-14 go to private schools as against the “best performing state” in education, Kerala, where 68.6 per cent go to private schools. The national average of children going to private schools is double that of Gujarat – 29 per cent. Then, Gujarat’s children spend Rs 140 per month on tuition, as against Rs 231 in Kerala. Here, too, the national average is high – Rs 169. 
 
 
Data of poor standards of education, ASER data suggest, are particularly glaring in Gujarat’s government schools. Thus, in private schools, 33.6 per cent children of standard III could do subtraction, as against just 13.4 per cent in government schools. As for division, 32 per cent standard V children in private schools could do division, as against just 15 per cent in government schools. Similarly, in government schools, 39.9 per cent children of standard III could read standard I text, as against 57.5 per cent of private schools. 
And what is the “reason” Pratham seeks to offer in order to suggest things are really bad? The advocacy group, which virtually functions as a corporate house, fields Madhav Chavan, CEO, to say that government schools have failed to deliver, and will not deliver. To him, private schools, are the “panacea”. Chavan says, under government aegis, “elementary school system in India was expanding slowly for several decades”, adding, “It is no accident that by 2005 over 92 per cent children were enrolled in schools.” 
“But”, he points out, “Something else had begun to change. When ASER started measuring enrolment in 2005, the all-India rural private primary school enrolment was about 17 per cent. ASER seems to have caught a big change in its early stages – rural private school enrolment rose to 29 per cent by 2013. Ironically, after the Indian Parliament declared that it would provide free and compulsory education to all children, the pace of enrolment in private schools quickened.” This, he suggests, has resulted in school education looking up.
“ASER 2013 indicates that although the proportion of families owning TV has not changed over the past five years (54 per cent in 2013), the proportion of those among TV owners who have access to cable TV has gone up from 36 per cent in 2010 to 79 per cent in 2013. That is, nearly 43 per cent of all rural households have cable or direct to home TV. Half of these families send their children to government schools today and may shift to private schools if they become accessible”, he says, adding, this is because “we have a clear failure of government schools to deliver or even basic achievements in learning.” 
Further: “There is a need to urgently deal with the trend of enrollment in private schools in urban and rural areas. Banning private schools or even curtailing them is no more a democratic option unless a visibly better government school alternative can be presented. By introducing 25% reservation for economically weaker sections, the Right to Education (RTE) Act has in fact opened the door for unaided schools being aided by the government. There is no reason why government-aided and privately managed schools cannot be encouraged further”.
Arguing thus, Pratham does not recall even once that private schools are refusing admission to children from the poorer, weaker sections (read HERE). On the contrary, he thinks that “the segregation of children, even among the poorer sections, into those who go to government schools and those who attend private schools is socially undesirable and the option of government-aided and privately managed schools which function autonomously can in fact help create schools where all children can go to school together.” 
Chavan underlines, “States where nearly half the rural population and considerably larger urban population send their children to private schools could lead the way in this matter. Discussions being held at different international platforms suggest that the next Millennium Development Goals for education will be much more focused on measurable learning outcomes.” This, thinks, can be done by discarding the view that the government schools can deliver: “ASER maintains that learning outcomes, especially in the government schools in most states, are poorer today than they were a few years ago.”
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Gujarat’s anti-Modi topcop Sanjiv Bhatt says may not join AAP, wants it to come clean on secularism, Modi

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Gujarat’s topcop Sanjiv Bhatt, who was suspended for taking up cudgels against Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, may not join the Aam Admi Party (AAP), which has begun to attract influential sections of civil society in India and Gujarat. Taking part in an internal discussion in Ahmedabad, Bhatt told a senior AAP activist that there is still “no clarity” in AAP’s ideological leanings, especially on issues of secularism and communal riots. “I have yet to hear AAP taking a stance on the communal riots in Muzaffarnagar, though they took place after the party was formed. It uttered no word about it during the Delhi elections”, he said.

“The difference between the BJP and the AAP remains blurred – while the BJP follows gutter politics, the AAP has still not come out of its extremely commonplace paan-galla politics”, Bhatt, who was rumoured to have joined AAP for quite some time, declared. While recognizing that the fledgling Gujarat unit of AAP, led by social activist Sukhdev Patel, was clearly “anti-Modi”, Bhatt said, “The party’s Central leaders give no such clue.” 
Taking on Kumar Vishwas, who has declared himself as AAP’s candidate against Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi at Amethi, Bhatt said, “He has praised Modi in past. There is still no word from him on Modi’s role in communal riots.” Bhatt also said that AAP’s most important leader, Arvind Kejriwal, himself has not criticized Modi after the latter was declared the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate. “While we know the views of other AAP leaders, Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav, Kejriwal remains silent on contentious issues.”
Kejriwal said, “I know Kejriwal personally. I handed over to him all the facts on Modi’s corruption. It took him three months to address a press conference on December 4, 2012, ahead of the Gujarat state assembly polls, saying that “if Congress is Mukesh Ambani’s dukaan, then is Modi government Adani’s dukaan”. He informed the meeting, which took place at a guest house in the centre of the city that not only Kejriwal “sat” on the facts he had handed over to Kejriwal for three long months. 
“At the fag-end of the press conference, Kejriwal was asked who gave him facts. His answer surprised me. He named me, but added, he was surprised why I did not hand over facts to the Congress, on whose ticket my wife, Shweta, was fighting polls against Narendra Modi from Maninagar”, Bhatt said, adding, “It is also not clear who is AAP’s Prime Ministerial candidate. Kejriwal does not seem to be keen to be announced one, despite pressures on him.”
During the meeting, it was pointed out that there was “enough evidence” to suggest Kerjiwal does not want to take up a stance on communalism. “Before addressing a TV interview, had sent a chit where he said no questions should be addressed on communalism. The interview did take place, and the moment the interviewer shot questions on Muzaffarnagar riots, Kejriwal cut it short and walked out”, it was pointed out. 
Bhatt’s reservations on AAP have come to light in less than a week after top danseuse Mallika Sarabhai’s similar views on AAP’s Kumar Vishwas. Sarabhai, who has just joined AAP, kicked up a row by criticizing Vishwas for praising Modi. Taking on Vishwas on multiple fronts, Sarabhai sought clarification from Vishwas over latter’s glorifying remarks on the Gujarat CM in which he had been compared to a Hindu deity by the poet-turned-politician. “He compared Modi to Shivji, I want to know was it a paid performance.” 
She added, “His attitude towards women, homosexuals and minorities is very problematic,” Sarabhai said, adding, “He comes across as sexist and antigay, and has an anti-minority point of view, and at the same time praises Narendra Modi.” At the same time, she added, AAP is the “most positive thing to happen in many decades and takes democracy back to the people.” He comments came even as senior AAP leaders in Gujarat said they also wanted “clarification” from the Central leaders on what they think of Vishwas. “There is already a huge criticism of Vishwas on AAP’s Facebook page”, a senior activist said.

Gujarat govt’s “cash for land” format for Narmada oustees boomerangs, protests break out in Alirajpur

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Fresh indications have emerged that the cash-again-land scheme, “worked out” for the Narmada dam oustees of Mahdya Pradesh (MP) as rehabilitation package by Gujarat government a decade ago allegedly to get over the “scarcity of land” problem in MP, has boomeranged. The National Alliance for People’s Movements (NAPM), an apex body of tens of civil rights groups across India, has informed that “hundreds of adivasis and farmers, representing the oustees affected by the Sardar Sarovar and Jobat dam projects in the Alirajpur district of Madhya Pradesh stormed the office of collector NP Deheria and engaged in a day-long protest, demanding the immediate of 40 adivasis, including six women.”
Gujarat government provided the “cash against land” scheme framework in the hope that the oustees’ problem would be resolved, and it would be able to begin further raise the Sardar Sardar Narmada dam’s current height from 121.94 metres to the full reservoir level, 138.64 metres, early. Under the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award, it is obligatory to complete rehabilitation of the oustees before the dam’s height is raised at every stage. Clearance for raising the dam comes from the inter-state body, Narmada Control Authority (NCA) only after ascertaining that the rehabilitation has been completed. 
But, apparently, this has not succeeded, and a dispute has broken out in MP’s affected areas. In a statement, the NAPM said, “the protesters were arrested on January 5 from the site of the Zameen Haq Satyagraha at Jobat”, adding, “They were stopped at the gates of the collectorate by a large contingent of armed police brought in from Alirajpur, Badwani, Dhar and Thandla, while the women, men, elderly and youth tried to barge inside for a dialogue with the collector. The women demanded that their family members must be immediately released, otherwise they would sit on an indefinite protest at the collectorate.”
The district collector, who came down to talk with the protesters, kept repeating that as “the oustees did not want land, they were being paid compensation”, the NAPM said, adding, contradicting the claim, provided by the Narmada authorities of the Madhya Pradesh government, the oustees’ representatives said, the “illegal submergence in the hilly villages of Sardar Sarovar began in 1994 and submergence in Jobat began in 2003. Till date, cultivable, irrigable, suitable and un-encroached land has not been provided to the affected families.”
Pointing out that “the only land offered to the SSP-affected adivasis was bad, uncultivable, encroached land, which is in utter violation of law and orders of the Supreme Court”, the statement added, “The Jobat Satyagraha is one of the longest non-violent, occupation struggles in recent history and has been resorted to by the oustees after umpteen attempts of petitioning, court cases and mass action by the adivasis. The oustees have been cultivating the land and have also reaped three harvests on this land.”
Over the last two weeks “notices were being issued to the oustees to vacate the land, else they would be forcibly evicted”, the statement informed, adding, “Replies to these notices and appeal for a concrete dialogue were not responded to by the authorities and a brutal eviction drive ensued.” Even Afroz Ahmed, director, rehabilitation, NCA, and Kantilal Bhuria, former tribal affairs minister, Government of India also visited the satyagraha and engaged in dialogue with the oustees.”
“Ahmed assured to raise the matter with the rehabilitation sub-group, Delhi, after which a direction was issued by the sub-group in its meeting on September 12, 2013 to the Madhya Pradesh government to offer government farm lands in rehabilitation”, NAPM said, adding, “The arrests have been made seemingly under Section 151 Cr PC. i.e. ‘causing disturbance to peace in the area’, while the oustees were in the farm land and there was absolutely nothing they did to disturb peace in the locality.”
“While in Sardar Sarovar, many hilly adivasis have not accepted any cash compensation, most of the Jobat Dam advasi oustees being illiterate, their signatures were taken on affidavits and were paid very meagre cash compensation, many years ago and the’, the NAPM said, adding, “The oustees have submitted a police complaint under the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 demanding legal action against all the concerned officers for arresting the adivasis, evicting them for the land, causing destruction of the standing crop at the Satyagraha and submergence of their lands and homes, without lawful rehabilitation.”

Compliant against us filed with “malafide” intention to undermine justice to Gujarat riot victims

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Close on the heels of the Ahmedabad crime branch registering FIR against well-known human rights activist Teesta Setalvad and her colleagues for “breach of trust, cheating and conspiracy” by refusing to convert the Gulbarg society into a riots museum, Setalvad has accused the FIR “a deliberate campaign to vilify the efforts to procure justice for the victims of the carnage of 2002 that has been sustained and supported by vested powerful interests in Gujarat.” The Gulberg society massacre saw murder of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri and tens of others who lived in the colony on February 28. In a statement, Setalvad said, the FIR has been filed with “mala fide attempts to embroil us in false cases before the Gujarat police.” 
In a letter to AK Sharma, joint commissioner of police, crime, Ahmedabad, Setalvad and the trustees of the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CSJ) and the Sabrang Trust – some of who have been named in the FIR – have said, “We have been given to understand that some persons claiming to be official representatives of the Gulberg society have written to you making false and mala fide allegations against our organization that has been assisting survivors of the Gujarat genocide of 2002 to access justice. CJP has been assisting dozens of survivors of the Gujarat 2002 carnage and have been co-petitioners in the Zakia Jafri case against chief minister Narendra Modi and 61 others in the protest petition to be filed by April 15, 2013.”
The letter says, “Official representatives of the Gulberg society have already written to you stating that the letterhead of the society has been forged by some residents and the claims being made by them are patently false since nothing has been parted from them. The false claim that CJP has raised Rs 63 lakh and Sabrang Trust has raised Rs 88 lakh for the purpose of the construction of the museum, nationally and internationally, is a total lie. CJP has never sought nor received any money for this purpose.”
Setalvad explains, “Till November 2012, Sabrang Trust had received a total donation in of Rs 4,10,285 from donors within India and Rs 50,000 from one individual overseas for the proposed dream museum. This is a matter between our donors and the Trust which we will address when a final decision on the issue is made. All other funds, nationally and internationally raised, have been funds legitimately collected for activities that we publicly engage in. Our accounts are audited and submitted to the relevant authorities.”
The letter further says, “At no point have any of the organizations that we are connected to claimed any amount or money or land from any person residing at or claiming to be part of Gulberg society. Survivors of the carnage and we did have dreams of a Gulberg Memorial commemorating the state-sponsored carnage. This idea emerged in 2007, but finally had to be abandoned when prices for real estate spiraled. A formal resolution of the society was passed, leaving the members free to sell off their properties as per law. In no way have either CJP or Sabrang cheated them or let down the society.”
“We believe that with the date of the filing of Zakia Jafri’s protest petition draws near, this charade is being orchestrated by a nexus of vested interests to create a diversion and to malign CJP and Sabrang Trust. The cases being handled by us involve the most powerful in the state and relate to public justice and it appears that some vested interests have colluded to make false allegations and distract us from the onerous and dangerous task at hand”, the letter underlines.
Calling the FIR as nothing but “part of a sinister campaign”, the letter says, it has been “unleashed against us by some persons being manipulated by a former employee Rais Khan Pathan, who is using some residents of the society (not official members), and sections of the police and some persons claiming to be official members of the society.” It adds, “By unleashing this set of manipulated lies and using sections of the police towards this end, the dubious nexus of these persons with a former employee and the powerful in the state of Gujarat are trying to de-rail the proposed protest petition.”
Referring to Rais Khan Pathan’s earlier petition before the Foreign Currency Regulations department, the letter points out, “Our organisation and its role has been repeatedly exonerated and recognised for assisting the legal struggle of poor witnesses.” It adds, “The Supreme Court has already stayed two such malicious complaints in which even sections of the Gujarat police have played a role siding openly with Rais Khan Pathan. The matters are pending final hearing.”
Urging upon the Crime Branch of the Gujarat Police to looksat “the complete background and nexus when it deals with the current set of false allegations”, the letter says, “We would like to reiterate that our organizations function lawfully and urge that this mala fide complaint is not made a manipulative tool by the Crime Branch. Any genuine investigations or inquiries our trustees would gladly respond to.” The letter has been signed by IM Kadri, president, CJP, Raghunandan Maluste, vice president, Teesta Setalvad, secretary, CJP, and Nakul Mehta, trustee, Sabrang Trust.
 
 

Government now considering to use force, allegedly to cow down tribal protests against weir across Narmada

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The Gujarat government, sensing a sharp rise in tribal opposition to the Garudeshwar weir being built across the Narmada river to create a new reservoir 12 kilometres downstream of the Narmada dam, appears all set to clamp down on the protesters. As an early indication, the state administration tried to deploy state reserve police (SRP) jawans, who were brought to village Indravarna, which has become epicentre of protests against the weir. The cops had complete with tents, rifles and other equipment. Brought in contractors’ trucks, the villagers, especially women, protested, forcing the jawans to leave.
In a statement issued on the incident, the Sitten Gam Adivasi Sangathan (SGAS), representing the 70 tribal villages likely to be affected because of the tourism project being implemented next to the Narmada dam, said, “The women of Indravarna and Pipaliya villages, who worked as daily wagers under National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) sites, left their work and rushed to the spot where the jawans were seeking put up a camp. But facing strong protests, the jawans failed to dislodge their luggage, and were forced to return.”
The SGAS suspects this was the “initial attempt” on the part of the establishment to cow down the protesting villagers, and more may come. “Having failed to stall the protests, the government appears to believe that it can force the vSillagers to withdraw. And for this it can use police force. If it thinks we will withdraw, it is sadly mistaken. We think that the weir is anti-constitutional. Part of the larger tourism project, it is being built without the consent of the tribals’ villages, as required by the law, Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) (PESA) Act, 1996. Several villages face submergence because of the weir, yet there was no consultation with any of them”, it said.
The statement said, “The villagers had represented against the weir during a meeting with ministers in Gandhinagar on October 15, 2013. Thereafter, they wrote to the district collector in Rajpipla and senior officials of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd, which is implementing the weir, first on December 10 and then on December 22. Yet, the government refused to reply to any of the important issues raised by the tribals. Finding the protest swelling, it appears now set to clamp down on us, even as refusing to give answer to any of the contentious issues raised by us.”
The statement reiterated its demands. It said, so far the SGAS has not received “any formal answer from the authorities” on why the weir was being built without the tribals’ consent. “There is no clarity on how much of the 1,000 acres land will remain submerged and for how long. Nor is it clear if the government will pay up as compensation for the loss of crop during submergence”, it said, adding, “There are around 16 villages which have been identified for land acquisition for tourism project. However, villages like Vasantpura, Nana Pipariya, Indravarna and Gabharna are likely to be affected by the weir, but the government has so far made no assessment of any of them.”

Gujarat govt’s programme to reduce maternal deaths, infant mortality failed to deliver, says WHO study

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A high-profile study, carried out by half-a-dozen scholars associated with the Duke University, Rand Corporation, World Bank, Stanford University and Stanford Medical School (all from US), and Sambodhi Research and Communications Pvt Ltd (New Delhi), has come to the drastic conclusion that the Chiranjeevi yojna of the Gujarat government, launched to reduce infant and maternal deaths in rural areas, has been largely unsuccessful. Published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization (WHO), it suggests that the samples collected by the scholars have put a question mark on the project’s aim of encouraging mothers to deliver in private hospitals, with the government subsidizing the costs.
 

“The project”, the study says, “aimed to provide free childbirth care at participating private-sector hospitals to women who are below the poverty line. The hospitals are paid 1600 Indian rupees per delivery, approximately $30 to $40. The hospitals may offer additional services to patients and charge separate fees for them. By 2012, approximately 800 private-sector hospitals were participating and the program had helped pay for more than 800,000 deliveries”. 

Titled “Effect of Chiranjeevi Yojana on institutional deliveries and neonatal and maternal outcomes in Gujarat, India: a difference-in-differences analysis”, its authors, Manoj Mohanan, Sebastian Bauhoff, Gerard La Forgia, Kimberly Singer Babiarz, Kultar Singh and Grant Miller, say, there was an “increase in institutional delivery rates over time across Gujarat”, but this was “unrelated to the Chiranjeevi yojana.”
The study says, “The data collected through our study indicated that implementation of the programme was not associated with a statistically significant change in the probability of institutional delivery (2.42 percentage points).” In fact, it underlines, “The programme was also not associated with changes in the incidence of birth-related maternal complications, the use of antenatal and postnatal services or the use of neonatal intensive care.”
It underlines, “Our survey data suggests that 54% of the mothers in our sample suffered complications, including premature delivery, prolonged and obstructed labour, excessive bleeding, breech presentation, convulsions, hypertension, fever, incontinence or other birth-related problems after the programme had been implemented – and that the probability of these complications did not significantly change under the Chiranjeevi yojana.”
“Even if the programme has not increased institutional delivery rates, we would expect to see lower mean household expenditures on deliveries, given that the programme had paid providers over US$ 32 million as of 2012. However, analysis of our survey data indicated that implementation of the programme had no significant relationship either with the probability that households reported any delivery-related spending, or with mean hospital spending for delivery conditional on any spending”, it says.
The study underlines, “Our findings indicate that the Chiranjeevi yojana was not associated with changes in the probability of institutional delivery (including delivery at private institutions), maternal morbidity or delivery-related household expenditure. These findings differ from those reported by previous evaluations suggesting substantial benefits of the Chiranjeevi yojana, including a 27 per cent increase in institutional deliveries, a 90 per cent reduction in maternal deaths and a 60 per cent reduction in neonatal deaths.”
It insists, “These earlier studies did not address self-selection of women into institutional delivery, reporting inaccuracies by hospitals, or any increases in institutional deliveries over time that were unrelated to the programme. The programme was rolled out in a period when the economy of Gujarat was growing by over 10 per cent per year.”
Claiming that the results of the study are “robust to the inclusion of a wide variety of control variables”, and that “the staggered introduction of the Chiranjeevi yojana does not appear correlated with pre-existing trend differences in institutional delivery rates”, it notes, “There are several possible explanations for observing no increase in the probability of institutional delivery associated with the Chiranjeevi yojana. One is that the quality of services provided by private maternity hospitals is poor or, at least, is perceived to be poor by the local population. As a result, demand for institutional delivery may be low even if such delivery is provided free of charge.”
The study also points out that – despite the support of the programme – “institutional deliveries in Gujarat remain associated with large transportation costs, informal payments or other expenses that make programme benefits small relative to the full cost of institutional delivery.” The study emphasizes, “The finding of little or no association between the Chiranjeevi yojana and the out-of-pocket costs of deliveries is more puzzling. Even if the programme failed to make institutional delivery more attractive for any women, it should have reduced the household expenses for the many poor women who still chose institutional delivery.”
In fact, the poor women were found to be “asked to pay fees for deliveries in health facilities that were participating in the programme… It seems possible that some providers are providing extra, chargeable services – or simply increasing side charges. If charges are being made for extra services, those services do not appear to have any discernible health benefits.”

 

Interestingly, the study comes against the backdrop of the fact that the Chiranjeevi yojana received Wall Street Journal Asian Innovation Award in 2006 and has been hailed by some as a model for wide adoption throughout India. It was launched to help address the shortage of obstetricians at public hospitals accessible to low-income women in rural areas.

Gujarat print media now find high readership demand for Modi bashing articles and cartoons

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Blatant and vitriolic criticism of Narendra Modi seems to have become the norm for Gujarati dailies of late. Gone are the days when the Gujarati print media, with an average issue readership of more than 1 crore (according to IRS 2011-Q2), mostly adored the chief minister. It supported, or at least was non confrontational about his publicity blitzkrieg and his self-projection as a tough, non-corrupt, pro-development, ‘No. 1’ leader with a subtle and not-so-subtle communal slant.
 
As is evident from events of the last few months, Modi has been constantly at the receiving end in many issues — be it the arrest of Sanjeev Bhatt or his three-day Sadbhavana Fast. The prominence and the column space allotted to arrest and release of IPS officer Sanjeev Bhatt in the Gujarati media would have been unthinkable a couple of years back.
 
While English dailies reported the whole episode with restraint, news and images of Sanjeev Bhatt were being highlighted on first and last pages of Gujarati dailies. Bhatt was made out to be a ‘singham’ — a hero.  The pro-Sanjeev Bhatt coverage was not just about appreciating the uprightness of the officer but was fuelled, to a large extent, by the anti-Modi ‘line’. Gujarati dailies had a field day when the late Haren Pandya’s wife vaguely pointed her finger towards the CM in her husband’s murder.
 
Recent rhetoric against the Modi government, which was, in effect, against Modi himself, took off from very unusual point: the issue of cow slaughter. The issue was hardly discussed in the public forum. But suddenly the failure of the Modi government in protecting cows became the war cry in two major Gujarati newspapers.
 
The purpose of the intensive news campaign that ran for days was to prove that Modi was un-Hindu, if not anti-Hindu. It was to falsify his deeply entrenched claim of being ‘the saviour of the Hindus’.
 
Even the usual non-political Modi-baiters were baffled by the anti-cow slaughter campaign which gathered momentum so suddenly. The stage was set, and then came the burning issue of the appointment of the Lokayukta.
 
Gujarati dailies grabbed the issue with both the hands, one daily even lowering its masthead with the news of the appointment of the Lokayukta by the Governor and the government’s legal challenge to it.
 
When the Supreme Court referred the Gulbarg Society case back to the lower court and declined to monitor it further, Modi famously tweeted ‘God is Great’ and projected the SC’s decision as a ‘clean chit’. Many news channels echoed his view, but Gujarati dailies were more cautious and less jubilant.
 
His three-day ‘Sadbhavana Fast’ was treated with scepticism and a pinch of sarcasm, due to the pomp and politics involved. There was criticism about the expenditure incurred during the fast and even the memory of Mahatma Gandhi was invoked for an uncharitable comparison.
 
 Gujarati dailies have been vocal in making allegations of corruption and in giving considerable weightage to the statements of Congress leaders in Gujarat recently. A Gujarati daily recently devoted a full page to CAG’s criticism of various departments of the Gujarat government. A clean image no longer remains Narendra Modi’s USP, at least for the Gujarati dailies.
 
Mostly unfavourable and critical of Modi, for the reasons best known to them, Gujarati dailies have been conscious not to indulge in anything that may be perceived as ‘secular’ by a majority of their readership. During the Sadbhavna Fast, Modi’s advances towards the Muslim community were met with veiled criticism. One Gujarati daily even frowned at his attempted pro-Muslim approach in a eight column banner head line: ‘Allah-o-Akbar: Modi begins his fast’.
 
The real irony is, Gujarati dailies with their massive reach have been successful in reflecting general sentiment but their capacity to generate or shape public opinion has diminished considerably — more so in the case of Modi’s criticism. Yet, there is a strange equilibrium between the anti-establishment stance adopted by the Gujarati dailies and Modi’s wide-spread popularity.