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Amidst Covid crisis, turnaround man insists: Gujarat model is more precious than Modi

By Rajiv Shah
The other day I was talking with Alexander K Luke, a Gujarat cadre IAS bureaucrat of the 1975 batch, who resigned from the service in 2006 following two negative confidential reports (CR) despite having dramatically turned around one of the top state public sector undertakings (PSUs), Gujarat State Fertilizers and Chemicals (GSFC), which was a sick unit till he took it over in 2003.
Settled in Kerala since then, Luke was very upset with those who he believes have sought to criticise the current crisis due to Covid in India as a reflection of the Gujarat model. “I have put in a series of tweets which explain what I mean by Gujarat model”, Luke told me, wondering if I “followed” him. I thought I was, but wasn’t. So, the first think I did was to begin following his twitter account, and saw through umpteen number of tweets on the subject.
During my stint in Gandhinagar as a "Times of India" man, which began in 1997, I don’t recall having met Luke before the day he was packing up to go to Kerala for ever in his official residence at GSFC, Vadodara, where he served as managing director. I was told by my editor to go and meet him in Vadodara, which I promptly did.
The only thing I had known about Luke no sooner I was asked to drive down to Vadodara, about 120 km away, was, a top industrialist had compare him with Lee Iacocca, who had turned around Chrysler; the Reliance Mutual Fund had praised him for ‘unflinching dedication’ in rescuing the debt-ridden GSFC; the Industrial Development Bank of India’s ‘financial appraisal’ had poured accolades on him for the ‘GSFC turnaround’; and the Indian Institute of Management (IIM)-Ahmedabad had taken up a case study on how he managed to “save” the PSU.
I wrote a story about his resignation (reproduced here), which said, despite he being a game changer for this PSU and a few others, the state government didn’t think he was fit to serve the GSFC and received negative CRs for two successive years – signed by none other than the then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.
The story called him “turnaround man”. When I asked him what he would do in Kerala, he told me, humbly, “I have a 10 acres of land in my village. I will keep a couple of cows. I will have a lot of time to do some farming.”
As it usually happens with journalists, I wrote the story and forgot about it. I never cared to inquire as to what he was doing, though I would get news during my Sachivalaya rounds that Luke had “similarly” turned around some Kerala companies too – I didn’t care to find out which they were, private or public sector! After my retirement from TOI in January 2013, I have been interacting with Luke, albeit oretty irregularly.
Be that as it may, looking through Luke’s tweets starting April 23 to find out what he meant with Gujarat model, I learned, he meant by it “administrative excellence” which he had sought to cultivate in GSFC and other Gujarat PSUs, insisting, “In such times of calamity, administrative excellence would have provided people the support they badly need. People would not have felt abandoned and helpless as they feel now, (if) administrators would have stepped in.”
To quote from the tweets, “Gujarat model is more precious than Narendra Modi; dump Modi but hold on to the Gujarat model…” And how does one do it? By supplying “medicines, oxygen which the government must enable”, all of which has regrettably been “privatized”.
According to Luke, “This Gujarat model is no different from the true, say, Odisha model, Punjab, Kerala, Maharashtra, each of them will be functionally similar to each other and arise not from a definite culture but from human needs which while not identical but are very similar...”
Luke urges people from other states “not to hurt the sentiments which warm the Gujarat model”, as it comes “from each Gujarati's innermost core...” He calls “true Gujarat model” the “questing spirit which led Gujaratis to the far corners of India and the world. It burns in the heart of every Gujarati, a faint flame and can burn bright with social support.”
It is this model, he says, which led him to not just “revive” GSFC but also the Gujarat Alkaline and Chemicals Ltd (GACL) and the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL), even as pointing out, “What prevails in Gujarat today and for the last many years is not the Gujarat model; there is no true Gujarat model in Gujarat, what prevails is a perversion of the Gujarat spirit...”
AK Luke
According to him, the Gujarat model he is talking about “will strengthen not only Gujarat”, where this model is currently not present, but also the rest of the country. But he laments, “The Gujarat model today in many minds is seen as a political ideology; this is a false model of Gujarat, not what even Gujaratis want...”
So, what went wrong with what Luke considers as Gujarat model and which he tried to follow and how it emasculated in Gujarat itself? Giving the example of GSFC, which he had turned around, he believes, “Rs 250 crore was transferred to Canada by GSFC for a nonexistent project in 2013. Did the GSFC have such liquid funds? No it did not. So it borrowed these funds in the global market.”
Recalling his two Counterview articles in January and November 2020 (click here and here), whose follow up appeared in “Indian Express” and “National Herald” on this, he regrets, however, this emasculation of the Gujarat model was not taken up by even by Rahul Gandhi, despite the fact that his “family paper” (National Herald) took it as a lead. “Are there wheels within wheels I do not know of?”, he wonders.
Some of the tweets further explain Gujarat model, through his observations on patriotism. He says, “What is patriotism? It is love of nation. How would a civil servant who is patriotic behave in his official duties? His actions would show his love towards India in his official duties. By singing Vande mataram or Ma tujhe salam, under the national flag with music? No...”
He continues, “Love for India means love for its people, not love for its flag. Love for India means love for its people, not love for its Prime Minister or Chief Minister or a political party or a religion… Love for its people is not hugging strangers, wishing others' their religious festivals, slogans of Hindu/ Muslim/ Christian/ Sikh etc. solidarity, even charity to its poor and sick, eating regional food, hiking in the hills and meeting common people, saying Mera Bharat Mahan etc...”
He adds, “Love for your country is loving its people and is a serious matter, not a mere sentiment but a commitment, a personal commitment… It is a personal commitment to its people, a personal commitment for the welfare of its people, not an empty sentimental feeling which is worthless, this commitment overrides loyalty to the Prime Minister or Chief Minister and even to one's career prospects… That is love for one's country...”

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