On Friday when the 8th edition of Vibrant Gujarat drew to a close , Bhutan’s Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay’s speech at the 2015 edition of Vibrant Gujarat on “gross national happiness” that had overshadowed speeches of several diplomats including that of US Secretary of State John Kerry, echoed in the precincts of Mahatma Mandir.This year, the event not only missed a tall international politician, but also fell short on large businesses making major investment announcements.
Common to both editions was the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is credited with having fathered the event in 2003.Notwithstanding its thrust on Make in India, the event continued to remain a `by-the-Gujaratis-for-Gujarat’ one with a good part of it planned by the PMO. Interestingly, all the Indian corporate leaders who spoke, like Mukesh Ambani and Ratan Tata, chose to emphasise their Gujarati links.
The business representatives from United States and other countries were vocal about PM Modi’s leadership qualities and pitched him as a “global leader”, some of them greeting with a ‘Kem Chho’.
Back in 2009 Anil Ambani and Sunil Bharti Mittal had showered praise on Modi, called him “PM material” suggesting he lead the nation.
Every year the quantum of investments promised through the event has only grown. For instance if 21,000 MoUs worth Rs 25 lakh crore were promised in 2015 edition when chief minister Anandiben Patel managed the event, two years later the MoUs increased to 25,000 but the Vijay Rupani-headed state government chose not to make public the total value of MoUs at the valedictory session held Thursday.
This year, the speeches of special guests including Prime Minister of Portgual Antonio Costa or President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta failed were not too impressive. However, the Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Olegovich Rogozin who spoke in Russian conveyed to India and Prime Minister Modi that “Russia will stand by India forever.”
The Gujarat government had consciously played down the role the US delegation which was led by assistant secretary of state Nisha Desai Biswal, who has roots in Gujarat, with the Donald Trump presidency around the corner. But US corporate leaders like David Farr , CEO of Emerson took a clear pro-Trump stand while Peter Huntsman, CEO of Huntsman Corporation went on to praise Modi, saying, “…at a time when leadership seems to be at a low, we find it in Prime Minister Modi. When you visited our country last June, there were many many of us who wished you would have stayed and taken over the leadership of our country”.
He was followed by executive chairman of Cisco, John Chambers who was leading the US business delegation. Claiming that Modi is among the top three leaders he ever met, Chambers said that “no other country in the world has a better plan for the future than India.”
Of the 11 union ministers who were to participate, seven came and the discussion on Goods and Service Tax led by finance minister Arun Jaitley and MSMEs led by minister Kalraj Mishra, didn’t say anything new. Among those missing were chief ministers from other states. Only Maharashtra and Arunchal Pradesh were in attendance.
As far as investments promised during the current edition of Vibrant summit is concerned, the biggest seems to be declaration of Airbus planning to built an aerospace and defence park at Dholera located about 150 kilometers away from Ahmedabad. Gujarat government officials said that the MoU did not contain any investment figure and the Airbus was planning to initially start off with manufacturing helicopters.
However, defence minister Manohar Parrikar’s comments on the project dampened enthusiasm for the project. He said the proposed project could be a “specialised unit” manufacturing just gear-boxes or any other part of a helicopter. He also apologised not coming up with bigger plans because of the election code of conduct being in force in his home state. Gujarat also inked in a Rs 67,000 crore MoU with the Railways for manufacturing parts of bullet train, a project that is still on the drawing board.
The event also tried to maintain a fine balance in the BJP factions with former CM Anandiben Patel getting a place on the dais at the inauguration and deputy CM Nitin Patel getting his share in the valedictory. Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, stood out in his corporate attire and a speech in English, at the inaugural function.
If the 2015 VGGS summit got its adrenaline rush from the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) also held coincidentally, this year the Nobel dialogue featuring nine Noble Laureates held at Gujarat Science City, held the spotlight ahead of the Vibrant summit. The laureates spoke on many issues from advocating GM crops, China taking the lead in investing in science to how students should plan a career in science. The Nobel Series exhibition will also remain in Gujarat till next month.
Small and big players came forward to announce large projects, while others inked in agreements for routine matters. For instance, a little known player inked in an MoU for setting up a 500 MW offshore wind power project off Jakhau, while others like NABARD and SBI inked in Rs 30,000 crore MoUs for financial support to rural financial institutions and credit flows to priority and non-priority sectors, respectively.
Though Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in his speech on Tuesday described Vibrant Gujarat as “foremost economic conclaves of India,” the event apart from being a biennial spectacle, perhaps needs to achieve more substantial outcomes both for the visitors and the state.