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Modi woos businessmen with promises, wit

January 18, 2003 21:14 IST

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi"Meri ek kathinaai hai (I have a problem)," Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi told a 1,000-strong audience of businessmen, industrialists and the media in Mumbai on Saturday.

"Jabse se mere dost Arun Poorie (editor-in-chief, India Today) ne likha ke main ek accha orator hoon, dikkat badh gayi hai (from the time Arun Poorie wrote that I'm a good orator, my problems have increased.)"

Starting with these words, till the end of his 30-minute speech, Modi had his audience listening in rapt attention.

He had managed to enthral everyone: at times through his avowed 'passion to revolutionise Gujarat into a dream investment destination,' at times through his down-to-earth humour that had his audience in splits; and at times when he took digs at the chief ministers of other states.

Modi was in Mumbai on a mission. At the meeting organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry, he came not just as chief minister of Gujarat, but very clearly projected himself as the chief executive officer of a company: 'Gujarat Unlimited,' as he called it.

So what does Gujarat Unlimited have to offer really?

For starters, it has business in its blood and success in its soil, says Modi.

Modi wants to build his state on five strong pillars. "Gyaanshakti (education), jalashakti (irrigation), urjashakti (electricity), janashakti (manpower) and rakshashakti (security)," he said.

Asserting that the biotech industry holds the future for the 21st century, Modi invited investment in this area for Gujarat from businessmen.

Beaming with pride over the fact that Gujarat is home to renowned institutions like the Indian Institute of Management and National Institute of Design, Modi said Gujarat needed to have more such world-class institutions.

"We need foreign investment in education. I am ready to completely privatise this sector," he said.

In fact, privatisation seemed to be the most oft used at the conference, with Modi reiterating his willingness to privatise areas such as education, infrastructure and electricity.

Not everyone was convinced, though, by this declaration. "What about first privatising some ailing fertiliser and alkali companies in Gujarat?" asked an irate businessmen.

"I will not make any announcements now. I am surprised you still have doubts about my political will," riposted Modi.

The Gujarat chief minister used the occasion to gloss over some of the important achievements made by his state.

"Within 60 days, 900,000 depositors who lost up to Rs 870 crore (Rs 8.7 billion) in the cooperative bank scandals, will get every penny back through various insurance schemes," the chief minister said.

Modi said Gujarat was completely prepared to start generating electricity 'on the very day the Narmada dam touches a height of 110 metres.'

"Shinde (the new Maharashtra chief minister) ko main bijli deta hoon. Bure din mein kaam aayenge (I'll give electricity to Shinde. It will help him in difficult times)."

Modi also invited investment in other areas like agriculture and agro-based industries, infrastructure, windmills, atomic energy, and gas exploration that helps to generate electricity.

He amused listeners by declaring his intention of commercializing Navratri and giving a push to tourism in Gujarat this year by inviting business personalities from all over the world. He plans to hold industrial conferences during the day and entertainment programmes at night.

When he called himself 'janata ka daas (people's servant),' many a businessmen congratulated him for his humility and clapped for his vision for the state.

But there was also an equal number who poured out their woes about running business in Gujarat and expressed doubts about his commitment towards Gujarat's economy.

Some resentment at Modi, too

Some were still expressing resentment over the fact that the chief minister turned up an hour and fifteen minutes late for the programme.

But there was one man among the audience who shocked everyone with his audacity as he screamed at the chief minister.

Some uncomfortable questions wre thrown at Modi, too."You have blood on your hands. How can the CII support a man who has slaughtered people?" he shouted.

The man, who identified himself as working for an organisation called Insaaniyat and the Oxford Corporate Governance was immediately thrown out of the gathering, despite requests from Modi to let him stay.

"I congratulate you on this. You have managed to hijack this whole event," said a calm Modi.

This unpleasant event did not let Modi lose any of his time. Almost immediately, he got back on track and avowed his desire to create a temperament of responsibility, transparency and sensitivity to investment opportunities.

Somebody had once asked Modi what he would like to do for business in Gujarat. To which he replied, "I want to convert red-tapism into a red carpet."

Whether the 'CEO of Gujarat Unlimited' manages to transform his ambitions into reality is still to be seen. Yet, one thing is clear: not all of Mumbai businessmen have succumbed to the aggressive chief minister's persuasive marketing skills.
Kanchana Suggu in Mumbai