Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks about malnutrition in a Wall Street Journal interview have sparked controversy in India. In the interview, Mr. Modi said Gujarat’s economic advances can be a model for the nation, discussed whether he has prime ministerial ambitions and explained his reasons for not apologizing for the 2002 communal riots in his state. Below is Mr. Modi’s full, extended answer to a question about the state’s malnutrition challenges. It is translated from Hindi.

Narendra Modi: “We are the first state in the country to raise the issue of malnutrition. It came to our mind that Gujarat is by and large a vegetarian state. And secondly, Gujarat is also a middle-class state. The middle class is more beauty conscious than health conscious – that is a challenge. If a mother tells her daughter to have milk, they’ll have a fight. She’ll tell her mother, ‘I won’t drink milk. I’ll get fat.’ They have money but she’s beauty conscious, she’s not health conscious. So being a middle-class state is also a problem for me. A large segment of the population in my state is middle-class. Second is vegetarianism.

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi at a public meeting in Ahmedabad, May, 27.

“So a lot needs to be explained to both the beauty conscious and the health conscious. We have to request to them that there should be a good nutritional situation. We gave a budget of 700 crore rupees ($126 million). But these things are such that you see a sudden change in a child after the age of 13-14 years. They grow up so fast – from zero to 13 you don’t come to know how they got so big. So we are going through that stage.”

“Even after a lot of improvement – we still have to measure (malnutrition), conduct surveys. Until that is done, this perception will remain. But I’m quite confident. We will try to get a drastic change in this. Just as we’ve become a model in the electricity sector, Gujarat is going to come up as a model in this also. I can’t make any big claims, because I don’t have a survey in front of me yet.”

Health experts suggest a range of reasons for malnutrition in India, including poverty, inconsistent breast-feeding practices, poor health care facilities and corrupt food-distribution programs.

India’s National Family Health survey is somewhat outdated, but the most recent set of data from 2005-2006 had some troubling health and malnutrition indicators for Gujarat. Some 52% of children under five years old were stunted, or too short for their age, compared with 56% in Bihar, 44% in Karnataka, 31% in Tamil Nadu and 25% in Kerala. Anemia was also a major problem in Gujarat, especially among women and children. Among children between six and 59 months, 70% were anemic. Some 55% of Gujarati women were anemic.

Mr. Modi’s comments on malnutrition sparked criticism on social media and from officials in the Congress party (which heads the ruling coalition government in New Delhi and is the main opposition to Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party). According to the Web site of NDTV news channel, Arjun Modhwadia, who heads the Congress’ Gujarat unit, said, “This is not just a joke but is an insult to all women.”

Gujarat state officials told The Wall Street Journal they are taking a range of measures to tackle malnutrition problems, including ramping up spending on rural health workers, modernizing nutrition centers, and trying to better track young pregnant women.


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Read what Shri Modi said on issue of malnutrition to WSJ

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