When the 8th edition of Vibrant Gujarat drew to a close Friday, 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 event, with a good part of it planned by the PMO, which has a dominant presence of Gujarat bureaucrats and executed by their cadre mates back home. All Indian corporate leaders who spoke, like Mukesh Ambani and Ratan Tata, chose to emphasise on 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 on the ground, 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 to impress. However, the Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Olegovich Rogozin who spoke in Russian, and made a loud statement by getting a Russian to translate him into Hindi conveyed to India and Prime Minister Modi that “Russia will stand by India forever.” This promise of continued allegiance comes as neighbouring Pakistan inches close to Russia and India is seen warming up to United States.
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, not to give out any signals to the Trump led dispensation. 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, going on to say, “… 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, failed to live up to the hype. Among those missing were CMs from the 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 robbed the glamour off 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 a Rs 67,000 crore MoU with Railways for manufacturing parts of bullet train, a project that is still on the drawing board.
The event also tried to keep the fine balance in the BJP factions with former CM Anandiben Patel getting a place on the dais in the inauguration and deputy CM Nitin Patel getting his share in the valedictory as Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, stood out in his corporate attire and speech in English, at the inaugural function.
If the 2015 VGGS summit got its adrenaline rush from the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) also held in coincidence with the summit in Gandhinagar, 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 every possible issue right 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 agreements for routine matters. For instance, a little known player inked an MoU for setting up a 500 MW offshore wind power project off Jakhau, while others like NABARD and SBI inked Rs 30,000 crore MoU each 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 conclave of India,” the event apart from being a biennial spectacle, perhaps more needs to be done to achieve substantial outcomes both for the visitors and the state.
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