Mallika Sarabhai Writes To Amitabh Bachchan
My dear Bachchanji,
Greetings from a Gujarati.
You are indeed a fine actor. You are an intelligent man and a shrewd businessman. But should I believe in your endorsements?
Let’s take a brief look at what you proclaim you believe in (albeit for huge sums of money). BPL, ICICI, Parker and Luxor pens,Maruti Versa, Cadbury chocolates. Nerolac paints. Dabur, Emami, Eveready, Sahara City Homes, D’damas, Binani Cement and Reliance.
And now Gujarat.
I wonder how you decide what to endorse. Is your house built with Binani Cement? Do you really like Cadbury’s chocolates or do you have to resort to Dabar’s hajmola (whose efficacy you have earlier checked) after eating them? And having endorsed two pens, one very upmarket and one rather down, which one do you use? Have you, except perhaps for the shooting of the ad, ever driven or been driven in a Versa? Do you know whether the Nerolac paint in your home ( you do use it don’t you?) has lead in it that can poison you slowly as it does so many people? Or are the decisions entirely monetary?
It has been reported that no direct fee will be paid to you for being my Brand Ambassador. So, with no monetary decision to guide you, how did you decide to say yes? Did you check on the state of the State? I doubt it, for the decision and the announcement came from one single meeting. And I somehow doubt that you have been following the news on Gujarat closely.
So, as a Gujarati, permit me to introduce my State to you.Everyone knows of our vibrancy, of the billions and trillions pouring into our State through the two yearly jamborees called Vibrant Gujarat. But did you know that by the government’s own admission no more than 23% of these have actually moved beyond the MOU stage? That while huge subsidies are being granted to our richest business houses, over 75000 small and medium businesses have shut down rendering one million more people jobless?
You know of Gujarat’s fast paced growth and the FDI pouring in, you have no doubt seen pictures of the Czars of the business world lining up to pour money to develop us. To develop whom? Did you know that our poor are getting poorer? That while the all India reduction in poverty between ’93 and 2005 is 8.5%, in Gujarat it is a mere 2.8%? That we have entire farmer families committing suicide, not just the male head of the household?
You have heard of how some mealy mouthed NGO types have been blocking the progress of the Narmada project, how the government has prevailed, and water is pouring down every thirsty mouth and every bit of thirsty land. But did you know that in the 49 years since it was started, and in spite of the Rs.29,000 crores spent on it, only 29% of the work is complete?
That the construction is so poor (lots of sand added to the you- know- which cement perhaps) that over the last 9 years there have been 308 breaches, ruining lakhs of farmers whose fields were flooded, ruining the poorest salt farmers whose salt was washed away? That whereas in 1999, 4743 of Gujarat’s villages were without drinking water, within two years that figure had gone up to 11,390 villages ? (I can not even begin to project those figures for today – but do know that the figure has gone up dramatically rather than down.) With our CM, hailed as the CEO of Gujarat, we have once again achieved number one status – in indebtedness. In 2001 the State debt was Rs.14000 crores. This was before the State became a multinational company. Today it stands at Rs.1,05,000 crores. And to service this debt we pay a whopping Rs7000 crores a year, 25% of our annual budget.
Meanwhile our spending on education is down, no new public hospitals for the poor are being built, fishermen are going a begging as the seas turn turgid with effluents, more mothers die at birth per thousand than in the rest of India, and our general performance on the Human Development Index is nearly the first – from the bottom. One rape a day, 17 cases of violence against women, and , over the last ten years, 8802 suicides and 18152 “accidental “ deaths of women are officially reported. You can imagine the real figures.
You have said that you are our Ambassador because we have Somnath and Gandhi. Somnath was built for people. Gandhiji was a man of the people. Do the people of this State matter to you? If they do, perhaps your decision will be different. I hope you will read this letter and decide.
In warmth and friendship,