By Harit Mehta
Unlike some other Indian states, most businessmen in Gujarat have traditionally maintained a safe distance from politicians of all creed and color. The logic is simple: focus on dhandha paani and let the netas do what they want —as long as they don’t mess around with business.
Business historians say over centuries, Gujarati businessmen have always sided with the government of the day, be it Mughals, Europeans or Marathas. They have happily funded just about every regime.
But, these are different times. And, Gujarati businessmen may have to do something they have been carefully avoiding for centuries — take political sides.
Ever since Gujarat was carved out from Maharashtra in 1960, changes in political guard have never affected business in Gujarat. But, as this western Indian state celebrates its golden jubilee, business community fears things may change for worse.
The recent letter by Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) to the State Industries Department seeking details about MoUs signed by corporate during Vibrant Gujarat Summit has set the cat among pigeons. CBI officials say this is being done to examine whether corporate are illegally re-routing foreign funds. Corporate here feel this is a politically-motivated move with a clear message: keep a safe distance from Chief Minister Narendra Modi or face the music. The Modi government has reacted strongly to the move by CBI, which the Gujarat government alleges is acting at the Center’s behest. Senior functionaries in Gujarat government say the move has the potential to scare away investors, at least from the Vibrant Gujarat summits. They also blame leader of Opposition Shaktisinh Gohil for writing to Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to examine the claims made by Gujarat government and companies pledging big money during the summit.
While Gujarat has always been a highly industrialized state from pre-Modi days, the present Chief Minister’s Vi-brant Gujarat summits have helped the state market itself better — the attention it has received from the global media is a clear indication. The biennial event, a symbol of Gujarat’s rapid strides in economic growth, has also helped Modi wash away, only to a certain extent, the stains of the post-Godhra riots and establish himself as an able, business-friendly administrator.
The figures about investment promises dished out at the end of each summit have always raised some legitimate questions, like how much of the pledges translate into actual investments on the ground. But, very few have questioned the success of the show — there are not many events in corporate India where almost all business tycoons share the same stage. In the latest edition of the summit, around 70 top industrialists, including Mukesh Ambani, Ratan Tata, Anil Ambani, Anand Mahindra, Adi Godrej and GVK Reddy just to name a few backed Gujarat’s growth story under Modi.
The CBI missive has only confirmed the worst fears of Gujarati businessmen, who first spotted the bad omens in the Congress campaign during the state assembly polls in 2007. Shankersinh Vaghela, former Union Textile Minister, had coined the term “Modi’s Paanch Crorepatis” — a take-off from Modi’s oft-repeated “Paanch Crore Gujaratis.” Other Congress leaders had joined the chorus.
The pitch is getting queerer. Will the business community be able to steer clear?
Courtesy: Times of India