Skip to main content

Not so Vibrant Gujarat

By Rajiv Shah
In case Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi wins the forthcoming assembly polls – which he is likely to with a comfortable margin, if one goes by pollsters’ predictions – we will witness yet another biennial Modi show, the sixth Vibrant Gujarat global summit. Gujarat’s bureaucrats, sure of Modi victory, haven’t left any stone unturned to make preparations for the show, to take place at Mahatma Mandir, a convention centre not very far from Sachivalaya in Gandhinagar. 
Industrial Extension Bureau, propaganda wing of the state industries department, has printed thousands of folders “welcoming” investors at the “Vibrant Gujarat global business hub”, asking them: “Block your diary for January 11-13, 2013.” Partner countries have been declared – Japan and Canada; and partner organizations are Japan External Trade Organization, US-India Business Council and Australia-India Business Council. A folder, carrying a Modi photograph, quotes him to say: “Gujarat is emerging as a globally preferred place to live in and to do business.”
All of this didn’t amuse me as much as the “highlights” of the last show, which took place in 2011, especially its “outcome” section in the folder. It proudly declares that 8,380 memorandums of understanding (MoUs) were signed with “prospective investors”, more than “100 political leaders, senior diplomats and captains of industry” were on the dais, and “around 460 tieups with leading institutions from across the globe for knowledge exchange” took place. Further, there were 150 B2B (business to business) and B2G (business to government) “meetings.” Good enough. But what’s singularly missing is the amount for which MoUs were signed, something which Modi personally took pride in declaring at the end of the last show. I remember how principal secretary, industries, Maheshwar Sahu, who wounded up the show with all the data, left it to Modi to declare the MoU amount. Modi stood up, and amidst a huge applause from his supporters, who had thronged the occasion, declared it was Rs 21 lakh crore!
I was at a loss. Why is the folder, prepared so meticulously, quiet about the amount? The MoUs amount had been rising by geometrical proportions. It was 14 billion dollars in 2003, 20 billion in 2005, 152 billion in 2007, 241 billion dollars in 2009, and finally 463 billion dollars at the last show. What a grand success, one would wonder, considering that the total amount for which MoUs have been signed up almost equals the Planning Commission’s outlay for India in the 11th five year plan! I decided to informally chat with some of those who were involved in the past shows and, also, with those who are preparing for the next show, in January, in order to get a feel of what was happening. One of them, apparently, joked, “There’s going to be a target – one trillion dollars, just go and find out. Modi will win the polls and distribute it to us all. Am giving you inside info, about which industries department people are not aware of.” He looked straight, smiled, kept me guessing, and we parted ways.
I posed a question to another bureaucrat. What will be the highlight of the next summit? And this is what he said: “Last time, we covered an exhibition area of 35,000 sq metres. This time it will be 1 lakh sq metres.” I asked: “And what will be the amount for which MoUs will be signed?”, to which he replied, “There’s no focus on MoUs. Discussions will take place on different issues, tie-ups may happen, but no MoUs.” I asked him further, “Why this? Change in strategy?” And he became frank: “There was a rat-race during the past summits to sign MoUs. Targets were given, which we had to fulfill, whether we liked it or not. Industrialists didn’t choose the amount for which MoUs were to be signed; we would suggest it.” He added, “The ports department, for instance, was given the target of Rs 90,000 crore for the 2011 summit, which was over-fulfilled, reaching Rs 1.10 lakh crore, and same was the case with other key sectors like power, petrochemicals, automobiles and engineering. Invitations were forwarded to only those who had told us in advance about their desire to sign up MoU. If the targets seemed difficult, we would ask the investor to add a zero or two. Rs 300 crore, for instance, would easily become Rs 3,000 crore.”
Indeed, I was personally witness to how it all happened in the past. Invitations were a gateway to sign MoUs and stand next to Modi. Higher the amount, closer you would be standing with Modi for the photo session, which would happen at the end of each MoU signing ceremony. The ceremonies would invariably happen in the midst of seminars. Modi would enter in for MoU with a grand announcement, reminiscent of the sultan of the olden days stepping into the durbar with “hoshiyar, khabardar”. The top expert lecturing the seminar would be asked to stop, allow the MoUs to happen. The total amount of MoUs would be announced. Once MoUs and the photo session would end, Modi would move out, giving a successful smile, taking along with him most of the crowd that attended the seminar. The organizers would be forced to end the seminar midway. “Be assured, nothing of the sort will happen this time”, the bureaucrat tried to convince me, adding, “The focus, instead, would be on knowledge tie-ups – on manufacturing, sustainable development, R&D, human capital, service sector, renewable energy, ports, agribusiness.”
Why this sudden stop to the target-based approach? This is how he explained: “The target-based approach had its own negative points. Even in case the investor had implemented the project, the amount for which it was implemented would be quite small. An investor would sign a MoU for Rs 3,000 crore, but would invest just Rs 300 crore, reflecting his real capacity. It’s a strange predicament: 70 per cent of the investors who had signed up MoUs at 2009 summit have already invested in Gujarat, but for just 15 per cent of the total amount!” Another bureaucrat, who was a key person monitoring MoUs during all past summits, informed me, “I had personally advised the government to stop the target-based approach after the 2005 summit. But nobody cared. Everyone, including the then chief secretary D Rajagopalan, insisted that things should look big, even if they are not. We invited lot of negative publicity, though we had reason to rejoice.”
Yet another bureaucrat revealed, “Monitoring of MoUs has come to a standstill today.” At the past three review meetings on Vibrant Gujarat in Sachivalaya, held over the last six months under the captainship of Gujarat chief secretary AK Joti, “there was no discussion on the progress made at the summits, because the achievement in value terms looked extremely pathetic.” Why this? I wondered. And he answered, “Previously I was involved in monitoring the progress of each MoU, asking departments concerned to send the progress report regularly. I used to get good response. This helped keep keen investors alert. My role has changed. Instead of monitoring, I directly deal with investors, and know what’s the problem. My interaction with investors suggests that many of those who had signed up MoUs saw it as the government promise to give them cheap land. Some of them would just give a phone call, telling me to reserve a particular piece of land. As for the project per se, few seemed to care.”



Hold your breath! UK ex-Muslims to celebrate Blasphemy Day on September 30

Soheil Arabi The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB), in a suprise move, has decided to observe September 30 as the Blasphemy Day. In an email alert, Maryam Namazie, CEMB spokesperson, has asked anyone interested to join CEMB in celebrating blasphemy by " uploading your photo into our #blasphemyday frame and sharing on social media."

Diaspora protest as Biden failed to publicly address persecution of minorities in India

As Modi addressed UN, human rights groups decried “monstrosity” of persecution of Muslims, Christians, Dalits, and other minorities in India. Demonstrators gathered outside UN to protest fascism, hate campaigns, weaponized rape, apartheid, lynchings, unlawful arrests, attacks on the media, and other abuses in India: A report distributed by the diaspora group Hindus for Human Rights: *** While observers said it was “shameful” that President Biden failed to publicly address widespread persecution of religious minorities in India when he met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 24, more than 100 members of interfaith and human rights groups spoke out as Modi addressed the United Nations General Assembly. Speakers condemned the egregious human rights violations and murders of religious minorities in India under a government that openly supports Hindu supremacy. The rally was sponsored by 21 organizations, including Ambedkar International Center, Ambedkar King S

What this veteran Gandhian witnessed at Rajghat is indeed intensely disturbing

Renowned Gandhian, activist and physicist Professor VK Tripathi witnessed an “intensely worrisome” event at the Gandhi Samadhi on his birthday on October 2, 2021. “The children of the Hindutva criminals who assassinated him have captured places which are supposed to keep Gandhiji's heritage alive”, says Deepak Joshi in a Faceook post, insisting, “We should strongly protest against it. It is already too late.”

Forthcoming book explodes Western myth: Personal qualities are biologically inherited

Jonathan Latham, PhD, Executive Director, The Bioscience Resource Project, New York, has said in an email alert via JanVikalp that his forthcoming book about genetics and genetic determinism, provisionally titled "The Myth of The Master Molecule: DNA and the Social Order" criticises the notion that personal qualities are biologically inherited: *** The contention of the book is that the key organising principle of Western thought is the seemingly innocuous and seemingly simple idea that our personal qualities are biologically inherited. That is, our character derives from our ancestors rather than being an always-adapting product of our own experiences, decisions, and education. The book makes the case, first, that genetic determinism is a scientific fallacy. Organisms are self-organised systems and therefore are not genetically determined. Second, the explanation for the myth, which predates Mesopotamian cities of 6,000 years ago, is its utility. Genetic determinism rationa

International Energy Agency floats new plan to end oil, gas, and coal expansion

In major shift, International Energy Agency (IEA)’s World Energy Outlook has mainstreamed 1.5°C pathway, showing need to end oil, gas, and coal expansion, insisting on new fossil fuel phase-out benchmarks in order to test government ambition ahead of COP26. A report by Oil Change International, distributed by BankTrack: *** For the first time, the International Energy Agency (IEA)’s flagship annual report on global energy pathways, used worldwide to influence trillions of dollars in investment, details an achievable roadmap to keep global heating below 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C). By making a 1.5°C scenario the benchmark of this year’s World Energy Outlook (WEO), the IEA challenges governments and companies to back up lagging Paris pledges with immediate action to shift the energy system away from fossil fuels. Notably, this year’s WEO solidifies the policy conclusion, first presented by the IEA in May , that no new oil, gas, and coal extraction projects should be approved under a 1.5°C-

UN Food Systems Summit paved the way for greater control of big corporations

In a sharp critique of the  UN Food Systems Summit, a statement released by the People's Coalition on Food Sovereignty, a global network of NGOs, has accused UN meet of being steered by big corporations, even as the Global South was pushed back. *** The Global People’s Summit (GPS) on Food Systems slammed the recently concluded UN Food Systems Summit (UN FSS) for paving the way for greater control of big corporations over global food systems and misleading the people through corporate-led false solutions to hunger and climate change. “It was just as we expected. While branding itself as the ‘People’s Summit’ and even the ‘Solutions Summit,’ the UN FSS did not listen to the voices of marginalized rural peoples, nor forward real solutions to the food, biodiversity and climate crises. Instead, it let powerful nations and big corporations play an even bigger role in determining food and agricultural policies. The UN has finally made it clear what ‘multilateralism’ is all about—paying l

Ex-official: Why not offer Vaishnaw loss making BSNL, Air India to prove his worth?

By Rajiv Shah A senior chartered accountant, whom I have known intimately (I am not naming him, as I don’t have his permission), has forwarded me an Indian Express (IE) story (July 18), “Ashwini Vaishnaw: The man in the chair”, which, he says, “contradicts” the blog (July 17), "Will Vaishnaw, close to Modi since Vajpayee days, ever be turnaround man for Railways?" I had written a day earlier and forwarded it to many of my friends.

Gujarat cadre woman IAS official who objected to Modi remark on sleeveless blouse

By Rajiv Shah Two days back, a veteran journalist based in Patna, previously with the Times of India, Ahmedabad, phoned me up to inform me that he had a sad news: Swarnakanta Varma, a retired Gujarat cadre IAS bureaucrat, who was acting chief secretary on the dastardly Godhra train burning day, February 27, 2002, which triggered one of the worst ever communal riots in Gujarat, has passed away due to Covid. “I have been informed about this from a friend in Jaipur, where she breathed her last”, Law Kumar Mishra said.

Known to have assissinated O'Dwyer, Udham Singh chose not to apologise to the British

Udham Singh (26 December 1899 – 31 July 1940), best known for assassinating Michael O'Dwyer , the former lieutenant governor of the Punjab in India , on 13 March 1940, done in revenge for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in 1919, for which O'Dwyer was responsible, was subsequently tried and convicted of murder and hanged in July 1940. While in custody, he used the name Ram Mohammad Singh Azad, which represents the three major religions of India and his anti-colonial sentiment. Writes a well-known analyst, "He too could have apologised. He chose the noose instead!" Udham Singh's speech prior to sentencing in UK: *** “I say down with British Imperialism. You say India do not have peace. We have only slavery Generations of so called civilisation has brought us everything filthy and degenerating. known to the human race. All you have to do is read your own history. If you have any human decency about you, you should die with shame. The brutality and blood

Indian Doctors for Truth want Modi to stop overzealous universal vaccination drive

At a time when there is a huge demand to ensure that vaccination should be universal in order to gain immunity against the pandemic, an organisation called Indian Doctors for Truth, have asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the “urgent need to stop the overzealous universal vaccination drive against Covid-19.  Read the letter, signed by 18 doctors and a health expert: ***