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Vibrant Gujarat trips or tourism junkets?

HK Dash
The other day, I was sitting quiet in my verandah, sipping morning tea, scanning emails. And, suddenly, my good old friend Neeraj Nanda came on chat. Right now, Neeraj edits a periodical, South Asia Times, in Melbourne, and runs a news portal, mainly targeting Indians in Australia. We know each other since our college days in Delhi University in 1970s. Neeraj, who migrated with his family to Australia decades ago after working in several papers in Delhi, wanted to eagerly tell me something about Gujarat, and as usual I was rather keen. “It’s about a roadshow your state delegation held in Melbourne. I got an invitation, decided to go, and took along with me a Gujarati trader friend and an activist from Labor Party of Australia”, he told me, and my eagerness increased: “Who led the delegation?”
Neeraj replied “it was some Dash”, and I immediately identified the bureaucrat -- principal secretary, water resources, Gujarat government, HK Dash. An amenable babu, he led one of the several business delegations which are currently abroad to do the propaganda job for Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s sixth Vibrant Gujarat investors’ summit, proposed in January 2013. One delegation has gone to the US and Canada. It is led by principal secretary, energy and petrochemicals, D Jagatheesa Pandian. Another, led by Modi’s additional principal secretary GC Murmu, is on a trip to South Africa and a few other African countries. One more delegation, led by S Jagadeesan, MD, Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL) will be going to UK, Belgium and the Netherlands after the Summer Olympics in London.
Be that as it may, Neeraj kicked off by saying, “Dash spoke really well”. But what surprised me later was, that was the only positive thing he had to tell me about the roadshow. After telling me who all were part of the delegation – he said there was one SB Dangayach, the owner of Sintex which specializes in molded plastics, and another Rajiv Mohan of Waaree Energies, which is into sun energy – Neeraj seemed annoyed. “It was a bad show, poorly organized”, he told me. “Why do you have to waste money? Looked the fellows were on a tourism junket”, he declared, adding, “There were in all 15-16 persons. These included your seven-person delegation led by government official Dash, Indian consul-general Subhakant Behera and Australia-India Business Council president Ravi Bhatia. There were two Australian businessmen whom I couldn’t identify. There was no one from local Australian media.”
Neeraj further told me, “We saw a presentation with all the Modi hype, where we were told Gujarat’s annual growth rate was 12 per cent. Later, consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers man Mohd Athar, who was part of the delegation, told us it was 10 per cent. I was confused. Why this discrepancy? I asked Dash later if there was any impact of economic slowdown on Gujarat, and he was evasive. He just repeated what was there in the presentation – that Gujarat was the gateway of India’s economic growth. The consul general, who appeared to be a friend of Dash, wasn’t happy with the question. In any case, we ate good pastry, drank juice, took fruits, and parted.” Neeraj confirmed, the delegation maintained the “high values” for which Gujarat is known for – prohibition and vegetarianism. “No, there were no alcoholic drinks, only coffee and fruit juice. There was no non-veg stuff, either”, he told me.During the roadshow, what particularly struck Neeraj was – the Indian delegation tried to present Gujarat as standing apart from the rest of India. He suggested that the comparison between Gujarat and India seemed “particularly odd” on a foreign land, and that it seemed as if India’s development was impossible without Gujarat. There were detailed slides on comparison between Gujarat and India, he told me, which seemed to indicate that Gujarat is more investment-friendly than the rest of Indian states. I, too, wondered: Should one take the current competition between Indian states – which reached a zenith when Modi weaned away the Nano car project from West Bengal, “defeating” other states – to a foreign land? I instantly remembered what Prof Eric Komarov, an A-class Indologist, predicted during my Moscow days more than two decades ago: “India is moving from federative to confederative stage.”
Indeed, the hype created around Vibrant Gujarat investors’ summits, a biennial event, is not new. Former Gujarat chief secretary PK Laheri once told me how he asked one local investor to add two zeroes to the amount of investment he had proposed at one of the summits. “We were given a particular target. There was no way we could accomplish it. I called the businessman to sign the memorandum of understand MoU, and he told me about his capacity. I said, ‘You have to do nothing, just it sign up as an MoU’, I insisted. He reluctantly agreed, and we achieved our target”, he said. Begun in 2003 as an effort to, what many government officials say, “divert national and international attention from Gujarat riots of 2002”, the number of MoUs signed up keep rising by geometrical proportions with each summit. Begun with a humble Rs 63,000 crore worth of MoUs, the joke in Gandhinagar Sachivalaya is, at the current rate, it will reach Rs 51 lakh crore at the next summit, which is to take place in January 2013. This is half of India’s expected Gross Domestic Product in 2012-13!


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