When India’s new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, left his job as the Chief Minister of the State of Gujarat, he took some of the State’s most experienced leaders with him to New Delhi, leaving a power vacuum. The western State’s still newly-anointed Chief Minister, Anandiben Patel, now has the difficult task of trying to fill Mr. Modi’s shoes…
In the few months since the Bharatiya Janata Party politician has taken over, Ms. Patel seems to be following in Mr. Modi’s footsteps by focusing on speedy decision-making, transparency and project implementation. In an interview at the Chief Minister’s working residence in the State capital of Gandhinagar, Ms. Patel told The Wall Street Journal that she plans to maintain the momentum Mr. Modi started and help the State — home to 60 million people — to continue to shine.
“My predecessor Mr. Modi gave fuel to this idea for positioning Gujarat as the growth-engine for India,” she said in one of her first interview since taking office. “We are well prepared to follow the mantra of minimum Government, maximum governance.” A close ally to Mr. Modi for more than a decade, Ms. Patel, 72, has built an image as a tough, no-nonsense administrator. Like her predecessor, Chief Minister Patel has kept more than a dozen State Minister positions with herself including State Ministries for home, revenue and urban development. Some of the State’s bureaucrats confirm that her style of running the Government is more or less in keeping with the Modi model.
“The administrative culture in Gujarat has already been set,” during the time of Modi, said Ajay Bhadoo, a senior bureaucrat in the State. “The same is being followed.” In the interview, Ms. Patel talked about her plans to take Mr. Modi’s legacy forward to ensure rapid development in
The Wall Street Journal: What are your top priorities as Chief Minister?
Anandiben Patel: My foremost priority is to maintain the State’s leading position in the socio-economic front in the country. For this, my Government will focus on empowering women and improving the lives of farmers, making Gujarat a malnutrition-free State and building a toilet in every house of the State.
WSJ: What are the key steps taken by your Government towards protecting and empowering women?
Patel: I worry for the safety of women. Women are inherently strong but face difficulties due to not having enough confidence. To overcome this fear, we have constituted women safety committees in every district of Gujarat where women are being trained in self-defense mechanisms from rifle shooting to judo training. Besides, 33 per cent of the seats have been reserved for women in police recruitment at all levels in the State.
WSJ: You have spoken about tackling the problem of malnutrition. How do you plan to do this?
Patel: Malnutrition is a continuous problem. To get rid of the problem is difficult. But our job is to solve the problem at the grassroots level, to make the child healthy from the time of his birth. For this, we are providing nutrition-rich food such as milk, fruits and green vegetables to women and children. The aid for nutritious food given to pregnant women has been increased from 1,600 rupees ($27) to 6,000 rupees.
WSJ: How will you work toward improving the lives of farmers?
Patel: Being a farmer’s daughter, I understand the problems of farmers. My priority is to make the famers familiar with the latest scientific techniques of farming that could be taken to every village to make their lives better. We are also encouraging farmers to adopt drip irrigation on a big scale by giving subsidies to ensure more effective use of water and take on the process of irradiation to preserve farm produce.
WSJ: What have been the challenges of the State’s rapid urbanization? How is your Government responding to it?
Patel: As town planning is the most vital tool of organised urban expansion, we have finalized as many as 142 town planning programs ready for development of basic infrastructural facilities and public housing. We plan to spend 150 billion rupees over the next three years. Our focus will be to create world-class sanitation standards in the cities of Gujarat by 2019. For the last few months, we have taken up the issue of building toilets for women. It is extremely unfortunate that women in villages have to wait till it gets dark to go out and defecate in the open.
WSJ: The world is talking about the Gujarat model of development. What does that model mean to you?
Patel: My predecessor Mr. Modi gave fuel to this idea for positioning Gujarat as the growth-engine for India. For me, the Gujarat model is a well laid path for achieving success and development for the State and its people. We are well prepared to follow the mantra of minimum Government, maximum governance.
WSJ: Any suggestions for Prime Minister Mr. Modi?
Patel: He will give suggestion to all. After Mr. Modi moved to the center, a lot of Government officials from the Central Government came to Gujarat to take stock of the State Government’s new initiatives. Mr. Modi knows what to do for the entire country. n – WSJ