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Wednesday, Sep 24, 2003

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Showcasing Gujarat, the vibrant way

Vinod Mathew

FINALLY, Vibrant Gujarat, the latest in the long running saga of international investor meets featured in various parts of the country, is just around the corner. While the last one to make a big hurrah in this direction was the Global Investor Meet (GIM) in Kerala, the one in Gujarat promises to be qualitatively different, mainly as it overlaps with the Navratri festivities.

According to the Gujarat Government, it is a conscious decision to have the global business community check out investment opportunities in the State during this festive occasion as it will make room for culture to go hand-in-hand with commerce. And, Vibrant Gujarat would be the big stage for the State Government to declare to the world that its has anointed itself the petrochemicals capital of the country.

On the face of it quite an impressive claim, though the backbone of Gujarat's industry has always been the petrochemicals sector all these years. Anand in Gujarat already finds acceptance as the milk capital of India and Ahmedabad is not only the erstwhile textile capital of India but also the ice-cream capital. There are many sectors where Gujarat can rightfully claim a similar place, only it has not chosen to do so.

Capital talk apart, Vibrant Gujarat has managed a good build-up to the event, what with the mineral policy, followed by the industrial policy and then the tourism policy getting unfurled during the weekend. So, what if there is nothing really pathbreaking in some of these policies such as the wooing of the automobile sector in the industrial policy or the lifting of prohibition in the tourism policy?

Instead, the Government seems to have chosen to rest on the laurels which have come by way of oil and gas strikes (both within the State and in the Krishna-Godavari basin) and the resultant pipelines thereof. Also, it keeps harping on the religious tourist circuit bit, that effectively precludes any talk of relaxation in prohibition. Similarly, any talk of single-window clearance for potential investors becomes old hat as one has heard it time and again over the past one decade.

Then, what is the one thing that gives Gujarat an undeniable edge over other States as an investment destination? Pat comes the reply: Industrial peace. In case you are wondering that some one is pulling your leg, after having read (and seen) so many media reports about industry in Gujarat going for a toss following communal riots, then read these statistics: Mandays lost on account of labour unrest in the last one year — Tamil Nadu: 18.41 lakh; West Bengal: 14.8 lakh; Maharashtra: 7.58 lakh, and Gujarat: 2.24 lakh.

It is another matter that one does not need to look too deep beneath this veneer of peace to find that large parts of the State have people who are still living pretty much on the edge. As was borne out by the rumours of bomb blasts in various parts of Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar that began doing the rounds on the first business day of the week. The culprit in this case was a supersonic jet of the Indian Air Force that apparently breached the sound barrier and created a sonic boom that led to the rumour mills going into overdrive.

Still, accepting its claim on industrial friendliness, there may be many who believe that Gujarat does not have much to offer by way of new business opportunities as an improvement on what was offered during the Resurgent Gujarat Meet in February 2002 and later on at the PetroMinex Conference in February 2003. But those sceptics may be proved wrong as culture and commerce may turn out to be a heady mixture that leads to deals getting signed by the day and cultural enrichment by the night during Vibrant Gujarat.

If the denominator on the success of the event is going to be measured by the number of firangs who check into the State during the September 28-October 5 period, it may boil down to a question of head count.

Not surprisingly, at a recent meeting of the Royal Dutch/Shell at Hazira near Surat, where the place was teeming with firangs, comments could be heard as to why the multinational petroleum company could not have held its event during the Navratri.

While the business community in Gujarat, especially those with one leg across the ocean, are pretty reluctant to go on record with their opinion about what they expansively refer to as the Navratri Summit, it is clear that they are quite optimistic about the outcome of the meet.

Just as they were about such meets in the past and will continue to be about the ones that will surely follow in the future.

At the end of the day, one needs to persist with such events, they say, as one cannot expect instant results when investment is sought globally.

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