“The double digit growth which Gujarat has posted despite international economic slowdown has no parallel. Soon we may witness that Gujarat will be a role model even for China.”
At the Vibrant Gujarat summit, held in Gandhinagar during January 11-13, these assertions did not come from any acolytes of chief minister Narendra Modi. They came from the country’s top industrialists and representatives of foreign diplomatic missions who gathered at the Mahatma Mandir, the magnificent convention centre named ironically after the Mahatma.
Significantly, the platitudes and rhetoric at the summit did not centre on the themes of “poverty, its eradication and entitlements”. These were banished from the discourse. They were effectively replaced by a powerful exposition of “parakram” (enterprise) and “vaibhav” (opulence). The central theme of a series of discussions at the meet was that Gujarat was ready to take on the developed world on its own terms. Gujarat does not need to look up to economic giants like the US, Europe, China and Japan any longer because it is now on par with them.
Right in the beginning of the conference, Modi set the tone by clarifying that this sixth edition of the biennial summit was not only about investment. In his view, Vibrant Gujarat was now set to achieve a much larger objective of “awakening India’s real spirit”. And Gujarat is all set to play the role model for that objective.
If you need any further proof, look at his assertions. Gujarat will be on par with the developed nations in terms of per capita energy consumption. The implicit assumption in this assertion flies in the face of conventional wisdom and sermons of energy-saving in the time of global warming. This is quite akin to the maxim that “America’s quality of life cannot be compromised”. In his series of interventions during the summit, Modi promised to take Gujarat to a state of “surplus economy” probably comparable only to the affluent nations of the world.
If this description of Gujarat is at odds with the rest of India, Modi’s plan for the state further accentuates the difference between the two. The futuristic projections promise wi-fi connectivity across the state. The state is all set to build world-class special investment regions (SIRs) modeled on Singapore. And the state promises to build many Singapores in order to emerge as an “oasis of opulence” in a country where privation, hunger and illiteracy are dominant issues.
If at a glance Gujarat appears to be a promised land, an El Dorado, Modi is cautious to focus on human development indices, the poor state of which has embarrassed him many a time. For this edition of Vibrant Gujarat, he invited 145 universities from across the globe to confabulate with academicians and bureaucrats of the state to draw a blueprint for higher education. His ambition to churn out high-calibre scholars, preferably Nobel laureates, from Gujarat may seem ethereal but is rooted in his effort to develop Gujarat as an education hub. His assurance to build 50 lakh houses to eradicate homelessness from the state is too good to believed in a country where homelessness and privation is dominant reality.
The summit did not discuss India in traditional and conventional terms. The rhetoric of bleeding “socialist heart” which formed the staple course of India’s political narrative was spurned with disdain. Captains of industry from across the world and heads of diplomatic missions cheered and lauded Modi as a saviour destined to take the country to new heights. British high commissioner Sir James Bevan treaded cautiously by avoiding any direct laudatory reference to Modi but his presence and praise of Gujarat was obviously calculated to show Britain’s eagerness to mend fences with the man widely seen as the future leader of India. Bevan actually called himself a part-Gujarati because he hails from Leicester which is considered a mini Gujarat in the UK.
Right from the setting of the stage in the ornate hall to his spotlighted entry and exit, his flitting from the venue of one seminar to another and his high-energy speeches, everything seemed well choreographed to keep the audience mesmerised by the man of the moment. It transported everyone, even the sceptics, to a plane of enchantment beyond the ordinary. His mannerism suggested that he was conscious of his sense of grandiosity and played his various parts with the ease of a well-practised actor. Even when he sought to look humble, he did it on his own terms.
Just in case that humility was not mistaken for anything else, he repudiated established political notions about the devilishness of big industry. “There is a new fad to criticize Industry,” he told the audience comprising largely of representatives of small and medium scale enterprises (SME) which form the backbone of employment in the state. He clarified that the industrial growth was synonymous with overall growth. “One big industry requires a lot of ancillaries to manufacture its product,” he explained, adding that Gujarat showed a unique mix of all-round growth. Quoting official reports from the union government, he said that his state registered a staggering 85 percent growth in the SME sector during 2011 against a lowly national average of 19 percent.
Taking forward Ratan Tata’s eulogisation about Gujarat’s conducive climate for growth and prosperity, Modi pointed out that the zero man-day loss in the state was the result of an amiable relationship between capital and labour. Trade unionism was redundant in Gujarat, he said, because “capital and labour work like a family here”. At first glance, he sounded like a braggart but a careful scrutiny of his speech would suggest that each of his assertions is backed by statistics.
Apparently, 17,790 memorandums of understanding (MoUs) signed between the state and investors would generate nearly 3.73 lakh jobs. At the same time state officials claimed that nearly 85 percent of the MoUs in the SME sector would go for commercial production within two or three years. Similarly, Modi assured farmers to provide interface with most advanced international agriculture practices by organizing seminars in the state to sustain its growth at 10 percent. Either because of his reputation as an administrator who delivers or because of the way he says it, there was a ring of authenticity to his many assertions. It was obvious the audience did not see his promises and projections for the future as empty rhetoric of an archetypal politician. Modi does not take chances. “Mein yeh karoonga (I will pursue and deliver all this),” he said to rapturous applause.
But he is such a consummate performer that it is difficult to tell when he mixes the authentic with the theatrics. A day after he kept in thrall the world’s biggest industrialists by organizing the biggest economic jamboree in India, he walked into the homes of the underprivileged to participate in the kite festival. If he is incredibly warm to an ordinary man, he is equally at ease in showing his indifference to the most powerful. Modi is capable of a certain “political spirituality” of having great empathy and complete detachment at the same time. In the process he emerges—to borrow psycho-analyst Sudhir Kakar description of Osho—as a “charismatic figure infused with great charm, an irresistible combination”. In his days as RSS pracharak, Modi loved Osho.
Like a magician conjuring up tricks to mesmerise the audience, Modi sold many dreams but not out of thin air. Four kilometres from the Vibrant Gujarat venue he organised a massive technology and trade exhibition to expose the ordinary Gujarati to the explosive changes taking place around the world. Lakhs of people from all corners of the state were transported free of cost to see, touch and feel the change he was promising. The exhibition registered an unprecedented 20 lakh footfalls. This once again proved that he was taking his message of development not only to captains of industry but also to ordinary people of the state. “Our success lies in the huge turnout at the exhibition where people have been driven by the desire of development,” he said in the valedictory address. So confident was he about the success of the event that he once described it as “India’s Davos in action”. The obvious implication was that while Davos was an exercise in verbosity and inertia, Vibrant Gujarat is about action and performance.
At the valedictory session, Modi explained the importance of Vibrant Gujarat by drawing a parallel with the mythological incident when the young and playful Lord Krishna opened his mouth to reveal to his mother Yashoda the whole universe that was contained in him. “Lord Krishna was a butter-lover. He was not a mud-eater. Yet, he deliberated ate mud in Yashoda’s presence so that she would force him to open his mouth. And when he opens his mouth, he reveals the brahmand (the whole creation itself). Yashoda would not have realised her baby’s real potential otherwise.” The allegory is clear. Vibrant Gujarat is Modi’s mud-eating moment to reveal the real Gujarat to India and the world. If people want to believe it is just an investment show it is their problem.