Thanks to Modi’s new role, the event is not longer state-specific
Ashish Mehta | January 12, 2015 | Gandhinagar
Is it Vibrant Gujarat or Vibrant India? A newcomer to the seventh edition of the state’s biennial investment summit might have wondered that. Because prime minister Narendra Modi with his larger-than-life persona was playing the host – to a galaxy of global who’s who – who in turn spoke about the great India Story. Gujarat incidentally did not figure much even in the prime minister’s speech.
Also on display was the apparent ambiguity over Modi’s role – as if he is still in charge of the state (Vibrant Gujarat, after all, is his brainchild) apart from being the prime minister. On the other hand, the so-called Gujarat model of growth and governance is now the model for the nation too, so Gujarat willingly played host to what was turning out to be Vibrant India.
Biggies and big change
The three-and-a-half hour long ceremony had UN secretary general Ban-Ki Moon, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, US secretary of state John Kerry, Bhutan prime minister Tsering Tobgay, and Macedonia prime minister Nikola Gruevski, not to mention the top business tycoons from India and some from abroad. This was of course a new high for the event. To reflect the new status, the tagline was changed from ‘investors summit’ to ‘global business hub’. Modi referred to it as ‘Davis in action’.
Bhutan’s investment demand
In Sunday’s grand opener, it turned out to be the representative of the tiny nation, Bhutan, who stole everybody’s hearts. Alternating in English and Hindi, Tobgay spoke about his country’s philosophy of prioritising gross national happiness over gross national product. They want all investors to come to the Himalayan nation, but with a condition: only non-polluting industries are welcome.
Hugs and misses
If the inaugural gala was a global event, the absence of China and Russia as well as Saarc nations was conspicuous. Is there any indication of Modi’s foreign policy? He indeed shared great vibes with Kerry, Jim and Tobgay, the warm hugs and all.
Splash and reality
Of course, once the grand opening ceremony and it was time for business, and Gujarat took over. A host of captains of industry – Mukesh Ambani, Kumarmangalam Birla, Cyrus Mistry, Sunil Bharti Mittal, and others – signed a clutch of letters of intent for investment. Of course, going by the record, only a small portion of it will materialize, so the headline figures are misleading, but it does create the right sort of hype and buzz. And eventual investments are not small either.
Built on legacy
It was way back in January 2003 that Modi organized the first Vibrant Gujarat event. He had led the BJP to a stunning victory a month ago, but the shadow of the riots was still looming large, and he might have been seen as just another popular Hindu right-winger. He needed to secure the confidence of industry. Gujarat was of course an investor-friendly state, and historically figuring near the top of state-wise investment figures. Modi’s brilliant brainwave was to bring all industry leaders on one platform, assure them of his government’s intentions, bunch together all the investments that would otherwise have been spread over the year, and deliver the bottom-line: a humongous amount of investment proposed. Thus it began from the Tagore hall in Ahmedabad, but soon it acquired such a profile [Mukesh Ambani proudly said he had attended each of the seven events so far] that the state government built a world-class convention centre in Gandhinagar, incongruously naming it after the Mahatma.
If Modi is known for liberal economics along with Hindutva – shortened to ‘Moditva’ – the Vibrant Gujarat events have been a key factor in it. Of late, other states too have finally understood Modi’s idea and started their investment summits. Right in the past ten days or so, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal held their own versions of Vibrant Gujarat. Modi has promised all help to all state with ‘cooperative federalism’, even with a healthy competition among states.
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