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Friday, January 16, 2009

Vibrant Gujarat: From behind the scenes

I am not a Narendra Modi fan. In fact, I don't know him at all. Yes, I had heard of his propoganda campaign during the 2002 Godhra riots, but that's all I had known of him before I attended the Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors Summit 2009 in Ahmedabad earlier this week. Modi looked suave in a suit and he did look powerful. But this wasn't just a show of power. To organise a well-attended (all those industrywallas who matter shared the dias with his at the inauguration ceremony on January 12) event such as this one at the time of one of the world's worst economic crisis while brushing away terrorist threats, is indeed commendable. Modi spoke in English. He didn't have a choice - the Kenyan Prime Minister was his special guest and there were delegations from various countries. But he made an impact only when he delivered a few sentences in chaste Hindi, so much so that they would garner a thunderous applause.

"Cameramen please sit down"
Modi doesn't like the media very much. It became even more evident during the inauguration event for the industrial exhibition. The hall was packed. Many were left to stand as there were few seats. Much to our surprise Modi apologised to the crowd for poor management on the part of the government. There he'd touched a chord. As a speaker (one of the many) took the stage, a group of cameramen near the stage jostled for space. Modi grimaced (we caught it on the display screens they had put up). A few minutes later he rose from his seat and walked towards the speaker who stepped aside. Modi grabbed the microphone and said, "Cameramen, please sit down. Please, please." Our media friends just didn't know what to do. They stood ground for a moment, but usherers rushed in to put them in their seats. We saw more smiles on people's faces then than we saw after Modi's speech on bringing investors in Gujarat. That sure spoke volumes.

"Jai Hind"
When British Member of Parliament Barry Gardinar concluded his speech with these very words, little did he know he'd created history. Gujarat is the land of Gandhi and his Dandi March. If Gandhi were present on that day, he would have beamed. His disciples and descendents didn't let him down.

Where do we go?
The mammoth event was organised by the government of Gujarat. Like most state events, this one too was found lacking in organisational aspects. For one, there were no directions. The helpdesks offered no help, so much so that when we asked for directions to the office of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), the man was perplexed and asked us whether we'd come to the correct venue. He of course had no clue that CII was one of the event partners.

Food for grabs
Gujaratis, like all Indians, love their food. We geared up for some traditional undhiyu and kadhi after Modi's inauguration address only to be greeted by a sight more fitted for a relief camp for flood victims. There were 10 counters for food and no plates. The caterers had misjudged the number of people who had come to the event. Corporate delegates in suits scrambled for the few plates that were available, often breaking into fist-fights. Others seemed resigned to their fate - they used rotis as plates and ate from them. That's innovation!

Industrial exhibition
The exhibition was the prime focus of the event. It gave various businessmen opportunities to know and network with others of their kind. While Tata Motors, Bombardier, Reliance, Cadilla, Sandesara Group and Gujarat Tourism took centrestage with huge stalls manned by dainty women in chiffons, there were others that sold everything from religious ideology, to tyres to even galvanometers (I hadn't seen one since college). "I'm not stupid anymore"That was Ratan Tata's reponse to bringing Nano to Gujarat. Besides Gardinar, Tata's speech was the only other that was laced with what we common folks call humour. Nano was a big talking point. In fact, Singaporean Minister for Foreign Affairs Zainul Abidin Rashid said, "In Singapore, everything is very small. It's all nano-nano. But here in Gujarat, even Nano is very big." Tata was happy. He said, "A few years ago I had commented, 'If you are not in Gujarat, you're stupid.' Now, I have followed by own advice. I am no longer stupid."

Mr. Minister, what did you say?
While all Indian businessmen and Modi spoke in the Queen's language, Paolo Pertini, Minister for Agriculture, Italy, spoke in only Italian. It didn't matter to him that there were no translators available. He simply didn't budge. What he spoke may not have connected with the crowd, but his Italian pride was saluted nonetheless.

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