Sunday, January 13, 2013

Vibrant Gujarat – more PR, less actual action….

Every two years, Modi organizes the Vibrant Gujarat summit. It is supposed to be India’s answer to Davos, a coming together of India’s biggest business leaders who commit lacs of crores of rupees of investments to the state. Very little of this investment actually materializes. Of late, as this has become clear, the bi-annual gathering of the rich and the famous has become more of a “chamchagiri (sucking up)” event, with Modi soliciting encomiums from his industrialist friends.

Recent reports indicate that the investment commitments are a sham. From the commitments made in 2009, only 8.5% of actual realization has happened. This is shocking considering that 4 years is a long enough time for any investment plan to kick in. But both the sides – Modi and the industrialists – know that Vibrant Gujarat is nothing more than a PR event. There is nothing real about it. Industrialists feel comfortable making tall claims….knowing that they are expected to and don’t have to follow them through. It’s just Modi’s strategy – yet another PR event – to show how fast the state has been prospering economically under his watch.

Again, as is true of most claims that Modi makes, the truth is hardly important when it comes to economic growth figures. In fact, the figures are revealing. Under Modi’s tenure, in the last 8 years, Gujarat’s growth rate has been just a shade over the national average – some 6.5% compared to some 6% for the whole country. In the last five years as well, Gujarat’s growth has only been slightly higher than the national average. Hardly enough for Modi to sit atop the high perch that he likes to, and hardly adequate for Anil Ambani to call him the “king of kings”. In fact, the growth of other larger-than-Gujarat states (remember a larger state finds it more difficult to grow faster) like Maharashtra and TN has been higher than Gujarat’s. And they have achieved these growth rates without the same noise that Modi has been making. So the Ambanis and the Adanis and the Tatas are happy to shower praise on Modi, but the reality is that there is very little follow-up they do after they have left the borders of the state.

What the industrialists are more interested in Gujarat really is the entrepreneurial spirit of the Gujaratis. And the equally commendable work spirit of the Gujarati workers. Gujarat has traditionally had few labor troubles (no thanks to Modi), and that has always attracted industrialists. One of the reasons for the Tatas to choose Gujarat over any other state (Haryana especially) is this. Gujarat has traditionally had good roads (for at least the last 30 years – I say this from personal experience) and a good power situation (again, for at least the last 30 years) – this helps Gujarat trump other industrialized states like TN and Maharashtra. There is also a certain efficiency in the Gujarati bureaucracy which helps faster decision making. This should not be taken as meaning an absence of corruption, for the level of corruption is actually quite high, but simply as an attitude of post-pay-off efficiency that Gujaratis are famous for. Once the money transfers hands, the work gets done efficiently unlike in other states where the problems never cease. Not surprising then that Gujarat is an industrialized state. It is this that attracts the industrialists, not Modi or his Vibrant Gujarat. Even in the days when there was no Vibrant Gujarat, there was strong investment in the state. Vibrant Gujarat is a publicity stunt; another trick to propel Modi onto the central stage. It’s a nautanki meant to bedazzle the public; once it’s over the industrialists go away, but the public will retain the memory of numbing numbers.

This year, the media seems to have caught on with this truth. No longer then the front page stories for this. TOI has tucked a small story in the inside pages. And even in these inside-page stories, there is mention of the non-existent investments from previous editions of the event. Journalists are also starting to compare the real growth in Gujarat with other big states. And more and more attention is being drawn to the inequitable growth in the state. With the appointment of the Lok Ayukta finally taking place in the state, there is a buzz that a skeletons will soon start to tumble out of Modi’s closets. Big industrialists – Modi’s favorites – are expected to be exposed for what they are. Modi’s big wish is that before all this happens, he should be safely ensconced in Delhi.

This is not to criticize Modi or the Vibrant Gujarat event itself. Modi is a savvy politician and that’s very good. Vibrant Gujarat provides Gujarat with a sheen that enables it to compare itself with Singapore and China. There may be other industrialized states as well, but the buzz generated is all by Gujarat. That’s always a smart thing for any CM to achieve. So the purpose of this post is not to criticize the event per se. The purpose is to expose the truth for what it is. Modi overdoes the PR, and someone needs to bring the truth out. The event is good, but it does not make Gujarat, Davos. The investments are still highly credible, but that does not reduce the efforts of the silent others. The event shows Modi’s bias for growth, but it does not make him any more eligible to be PM than the several other political do-gooders. Nitish Kumar may still be a much better bet for PM than Modi.

The real truth is that Vibrant Gujarat fails to impress, when one looks at its actual performance. It’s packaging is awesome, and marketing even better, but the content is rather weak. The lead actor (Modi) is India’s buzziest, but his acting in this show is below par. There is much noise but little genuine action.…..

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