ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Muslims in Gujarat and West Bengal

Comparing Prosperity and Vulnerability

While addressing a rally in West Bengal during the 2014 Lok Sabha campaign, Narendra Modi declared that Muslims in Gujarat are doing much better than their counterparts in West Bengal. The relative prosperity of Gujarati Muslims is historical and has got nothing to do with Modi's tenure as chief minister in Gujarat. Moreover, the prosperity of Gujarati Muslims has made them vulnerable to the attacks of rioters and added to their misery.

In an election rally in West Bengal during the Lok Sabha campaign, Narendra Modi declared that Muslims in Gujarat are doing much better than their counterparts in West Bengal. To substantiate his claim, he quoted extensively from the Sachar Committee report. Gujarati Muslims have higher incomes and higher savings, on average, than Bengali Muslims; they are better achievers in terms of primary education and their representation in government jobs is much higher than Bengali Muslims, though their proportion in the total population is much lower, asserted Modi. His intension was clear. He wanted to rebut the widely-held belief that religious minorities are discriminated against in Gujarat. To this end, he wanted to establish that West Bengal, generally accepted as a much more tolerant state towards Muslims than Gujarat, has done precious little for its Muslim subjects compared to the Gujarat government.

The wary listener can pick up a few loose ends in Modi’s speech. For one thing, no dependable income-data exists in our country and therefore the usual practice is to depend on consumption expenditure to compare economic well-being of households and communities. When Modi contrasted Muslim income in Gujarat with that of West Bengal and referred to the Sachar Committee report as the basis of his figures, he probably meant to compare consumption expenditures. But even if we look at consumption expenditure instead of income, the picture does not change. National Sample Survey (NSS) figures tell us that the average monthly expenditure of Gujarati Muslims is indeed greater than that of their Bengali counterparts. Similarly, there are some arithmetical errors in the figures quoted by Modi on primary schooling or government employment of Muslims. But even if we correct those figures, the basis for Modi’s assertion that Muslims in Gujarat are economically more well off than Muslims in West Bengal, not only remains unaffected but is actually strengthened in some cases. We have to therefore accept Modi’s assertion, whether we like it or not.

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