One of the criticisms often levelled against the BJP Prime Ministerial candidate is that he is for “big businesses” and interested only in promoting “corporate capitalism.” It is not just the opposition parties and the NGOs with vested interests, but also some of the high-profile intellectuals and the “secular” academics like the Principal of the St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai who are questioning the Gujarat model of development. But these criticisms do not appear to be based on facts. In this connection, I would like to place on record our experiences with the Gujarat Chief Minister during 2003-04 on his initiatives to develop the kite industry coming under the unorganized sector.
We are involved in studying the local industries and businesses in Tamil Nadu since the mid-1990s. Our activities got expanded to other states with the formation of the Swadeshi Academic Council (SAC) during 2001. Shri.S.Gurumurthy, the eminent thinker and economist was the Chairman of its Advisory Committee with reputed academicians such as Dr.K.Kualandaivelu, the then Chancellor of Avanashilingam Women University, Coimbatore guiding the activities. One of our main objectives was to recognize and assist the local industries and businesses that contribute a lot to the economy, but remain neglected by the system.
During the fourth quarter of 2003, the Gujarat Chief Minister invited the SAC for consultations to promote the kite industry. It was a rare invitation as the smaller businesses in the unorganized sector normally do not get the attention of the higher officials, leave alone the head of the Government. A four member team led by Shri.S.Gurumurthy visited the state to understand the issues and formulate strategies. Discussions were held with the higher officials and concerned authorities of the Government. As a part of the overall agenda for the development of the industry, the SAC suggested to the Government to carry out a survey of the industry covering various aspects to understand its background in detail.
The survey was carried out by three leading consultancy agencies, namely Gujarat Industrial and Technical Consultancy Organisation (GITCO), ORG Centre for Social Research and the Institute of Environment and Social Development in nine different areas in the state where the kite activities were concentrated.
Later the SAC prepared a concept note on the kite industry and the international kite festival 2004, which was circulated to all concerned. The SAC advised the Government to work out the agenda for the kite festival and the kite industry in two stages. For this purpose, it was suggested to organize a workshop involving the various stakeholders of the industry to facilitate interactions among them and generate ideas for development. Soon a day long workshop was organized by the Gujarat Government in association with the SAC during December 2003.
The Chief Minister inaugurated the workshop in which the entire spectrum of the kite industry representing multiple interests participated. Those present on the occasion included the Ministers, the Chief Secretary to the Government and the Chairman of the National Minorities Development and Finance Corporation. During his address, Narendra Modi announced that the Government would undertake all the necessary initiatives to transform the industry and take the business to the higher levels. He mentioned that a comprehensive policy with a specific time frame would be framed for the economic development of the craftsmen.
Then there were three technical sessions covering different aspects of the kite industry. Experts and administrators with necessary experience in the relevant fields were invited as resource persons. The first session discussed the issues connected with the up-gradation of the industry, designing of kites, problems related to the raw materials and improvement of the skills of craftsmen. Dr.Sky Marrison, the noted designer and kite expert from Canada, spoke on design innovations to make the kites exportable with eco-friendly approach. The economics of paper used in kite industry and thread manufacturing along with the feasibility for producing papers and bamboos required for kite making were covered later.
Issues relating to advertising and marketing of kites were taken up in the second session. Professionals representing relevant fields from organizations such as Mudra Institute of Communication and Institute of Environment and Social Development, besides the representatives of the manufacturers and Citizens Council presented their views.
The third session dealt with issues connected to the financing aspects of kite industry. SAC presented the integrated action plan for development of the industry. The Managing Director of the Gujarat Women Economic Development Corporation discussed the financing aspects of kite manufacturing through the women self-help groups. A representative from SEWA bank shared her experiences relating to banking for women belonging to cottage industry. Later the Managing Director of the Gujarat Minorities Finance Development Corporation presented his ideas.
Each session was presided over by a Minister who was present throughout the day. Representatives of the manufacturers, craftsmen, wholesalers, retailers, designers, financial institutions, NGOs and independent experts, besides the concerned officials of the related departments participated in the sessions.
The workshop provided an opportunity to all those who are associated with the kite industry to exchange views and share their experiences to take the industry forward. More importantly, the ordinary people involved in the kite industry got a platform to voice their problems to the authorities concerned in front of all others in a transparent manner. Besides, it was an occasion for the decision makers and the financial institutions to get a first-hand understanding of the industry.
The Ministers and the higher officials responded to the issues raised by stakeholders swiftly. The smaller issues were either sorted out or agreed in principle by the authorities concerned immediately. The major issues that required formal approval at the highest level were reserved for further processing with a positive assurance.
The workshop proved be to be very useful in many ways. The ordinary sections of the society involved in the industry – many of them with lesser educational backgrounds- were given an opportunity to learn various lessons required for improving the business from the experts and professionals. It is only the big corporates that get expert opinions and professional guidance for their businesses. But in this case, the Government made all arrangements to provide the facility free of cost.
After about two weeks we received an invitation for the international kite festival during Jan 2004 in Ahmedabad. We were also informed that the book on the Gujarat Kite industry prepared by the SAC would also be released during the inaugural function. The Honorable Governor and the Chief Minister of Gujarat graced the occasion. A two member team representing SAC attended the programme and received the first copy. Gujaratis from many parts of the world, Kite fliers from different countries and people from across the state flew kites of different varieties with enthusiasm in the open grounds.
Now after ten years, it is heartening to see news reports mentioning that the turnover of kite industry had grown to Rs.500 crores. (The Economic Times, Jan.13, 2014). Narendra Modi has also been mentioning the success of the industry in his speeches recently. It is a remarkable achievement by any standards, for an industry with a turnover of Rs.35 crores during 2001-02. It reveals as to how a determined leadership can change the fortunes of a small business in the unorganized sector.
A great majority of the people involved in kite making and accessories belong to the Muslim community. There is close coordination between the Hindus and Muslims in this business, with a higher proportion of Hindus in the retail business segment. Women play a dominant role in kite industry, as it is home-based activity. Most of them belong to the less privileged segments of the society.
It is significant to note that the Gujarat Government has been taking several measures to develop the industry over the last ten years. We understand that the crucial issues raised by the stakeholders during our study and later at the workshop have been addressed. Manufacturing of kites is now covered under the cluster development scheme for cottage and rural industries announced during 2003-04. The Government have taken up training to those engaged in trade, besides helping the industry to make innovations.
One of the concerns raised during the study was the declining popularity of the kites among the younger generation. Hence it was suggested to organize kite festivals in different parts of the state. Kite festivals are now being held in different parts of the state. Besides, festivals are also organized in Delhi and Mumbai on the theme, ‘Chalo Gujarat’.
Kites form part and parcel of the lives of Gujaratis. The kite industry signifies the close social and economic relationship between Hindus and Muslims. Uttarayan is synonymous with kite flying. Modi has now succeeded in making kites a symbol of Gujarat. Kites have also emerged as a symbol of the growth of the unorganized and cottage industries.
Hence the success of this industry provides important lessons on inclusive development. It is perhaps the most significant success story in the unorganized sector ever initiated by a Government. All round improvement involves the economic development of all the segments of the society. The essence of the Gujarat model lies in this approach. The credit for this achievement goes to the visionary leadership of Narendra Modi.
Note: The writer was part of the team that undertook the study of kite industry for the Gujarat Government during 2003.
(Published in niticentral.com, “How Modi’s Gujarat soars like a kite”, April 29, 2014 and in Swadeshi Patrika, New Delhi, June 2014 )