Home > News > Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2005 > Report
'We're here to talk business, not riots'
Amberish K Diwanji in Mumbai |
January 08, 2005 22:08 IST
The G word was not raised at all, not even in passing. In his two-hour interaction with members of the Diaspora, most of them Gujaratis who were being wooed (if at all that was needed) to invest in their mother state, the Godhra carnage or the subsequent riots were subjects so well forgotten that they might as well as not have occurred.
Only one person in the rather effusive audience that was lavishing praise on Chief Minister Narendra Modi raised the point that even as the CM spoke about projecting Gujarat's image abroad, he should address concerns about communal harmony in the state.
The others believed it was a subject best forgotten, a sentiment, incidentally, shared with their brethren back home.
"This was not the place to talk about the riots," said C B Patel, publisher of Asian Voice in the United Kingdom. "Also it is a subject that is now over with, why keep raking it up?"
Another person of Gujarati origin, a resident of Chicago, USA, said there was no reason to do that since the Supreme Court had already humiliated Gujaratis sufficiently by transferring the case outside the state.
He said any reference to the riots was at this stage would also mean referring to the Godhra carnage. "Most Hindu Gujaratis in the US believe the reaction was now wrong, and also believe that it is best to put all this behind us now," he said.
Sitting in the front row to hear Modi and others from Gujarat invite investors to one of India's most industrialised states was Firoz Merchant, chairman of the Dubai-based Pure Gold, a jewelers firm.
He said he was present at the meeting purely as a businessman and not to talk politics. "I am here to look at opportunities in my home state. I cannot keep thinking about what happened yesterday. We have to look ahead," he said.
Outside the room where Modi held his meeting, an elderly gentleman, Jamal Ghulamabbas, a resident of Uganda and originally from Morvi, Gujarat, said he had skipped the meeting since he did not agree with Modi's policies.
"What happened is very, very sad and I just hope it never happens again," he said, while his wife nodded her head in agreement.
Inside the room, Modi was clearly the king, and was feted in like manner. Modi was on a first name basis with many of the overseas Indians, especially those from the UK and the US, who have hosted him in the past when he sought investment from the non-resident Gujaratis.
For the non-resident Gujaratis, the strongest demand was for a top class international airport at Ahmedabad so that visiting Gujaratis would not have to trudge through Mumbai or Delhi.
A rather agitated overseas Gujarati complained that the Centre was discriminating against Gujarat by not sanctioning a world-class international airport and increasing the number of flights to the city.
Another person in the audience demanded an airport at Surat, the state's second largest city, lamenting that after all these years, this major city could still not be reached by air (a small airstrip has recently begun functioning).
Gujarat chief secretary P K Lahiri quickly stepped in to answer that the current Ahmedabad airport was being upgraded and increasing the number of flights would depend on the sharing of flights with international airlines.
And Modi said that an airport at Surat had been sanctioned and would come up soon. When later asked how soon, he said that question was best referred to the central government.
The programme began with a presentation showcasing the strengths of Gujarat, which is one long list of achievements.
Gujarat is ranked as among India's most industrialised states (it even claims the top spot as does neighbouring Maharashtra) and reading out the infrastructure available in the state was a case of repeating some well-known statistics.
Later, Modi added to the presentation by telling the overseas Indians that he had created two funds for investment: one for development works and the other for social infrastructure.
He said that the overseas Indian merely had to donate whatever he or she could and specify where they wanted the aid disbursed, and the government would do that.
Modi complained that Gujaratis abroad did not spread the message about their home state. Else, whenever India's IT accomplishments were spoken of, the state's name would be mentioned since it boasted an optical fibre network of over 35,000 kilometres, more than any other state, he said.
He also promised that with the Narmada waters now reaching right up to Kutch and the border with Pakistan, Gujarat would lead the second green revolution.
He invited the audience to visit Ahmedabad where the Global Investors' Summit was being held on January 12 and 13.
On January 11, the International Kite Flying Festival is being held in Ahmedabad. January 14 is the festival day of Uttarayan, a day when kites are traditionally flown in Gujarat.
So did overseas Gujaratis invest in Gujarat because it was one of the best states to invest in or because they wanted to do their bit for their home state? Hargovin Desai thought for a moment and then replied, "Because it is our home state, not because we expect to make anything from it," he said.