THE Vibrant Gujarat global investors summit in Ahmedabad last week is said to have attracted MoUs worth Rs 7.5 lakh crore. Kudos to chief minister Narendra Modi, though I will wait for the day when corporate honchos who pledged that mindboggling amount actually put the money where their mouths are. That’s not the issue here.
The point I was making is: did Modi, arguably the best performing chief minister in the country today, need the blessings that the A- list of India Inc who assembled at the summit showered on him? Many may be genuinely convinced that, as one top banker said, “ Gujarat is happening because Modi has made it happen.” But by endorsing his still- to- be announced candidature for future prime ministership, they could not have done a bigger disservice to the man whom they obviously admire and to the party that he represents, the BJP. The 82- year- old doughty LK Advani, the BJP- NDA’s prime ministerial candidate, was busy dousing the fire sparked by another party octogenarian Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, when this latest bushfire, set off in Ahmedabad, engulfed the BJP. Modi is no doubt the face of the BJP’s future. But the corporate honchos made it look as if the future is already here. If they were being nice to Modi whilst on his home soil, they should have been equally nice to Advani when they called on him last November, to discuss the economic downturn. None of them showed any such courtesy, though at Race Course Road, they sang paeans in praise of Manmohan Singh for his management of the economy in these dark days.
What is surprising is that the normally cautious Modi should provide a platform for hosannas to be sung and bearhugs exchanged. So is the Modi that we knew all these years undergoing an extreme makeover? Already, he has discarded the starched pyjamas and half sleeved kurtas for trendy linen jackets and designer sunglasses. The new look was captured and transmitted countrywide at his unusual New Year’s eve sojourn atop a camel on the deserts bordering Pakistan. His PR machinery that consists of about two dozen tech savvy types sends out thousands of emails, images and SMSes daily to the right addresses. His commitment to Advani remains unshakeable, but realising that his adversaries, or as he called them, a “ tolki sitting in Delhi”, were using the issue to create a rift between him and Advani, he issued a statement saying he fully backed Advani. And for good measure, he added, “ Under Advani’s leadership, the whole of India will witness rapid growth like Gujarat”. The issue seems settled for now but the other one — of the company that Modi lately keeps — remains alive.
Modi is a good administrator and we need good administrators at the top. But the choice is that of the voters and not investors. In the past, Modi stomped the villages and towns, knowing that the voters there held his future in their hands. Manmohan Singh was the toast of the investor class but the only time he contested for the Lok Sabha, he lost — from South Delhi, which is as affluent as it gets in India. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Chandrababu Naidu embraced industry. One is out of a job, the other is repenting. On the flip side are the likes of Jyoti Basu, Mayawati and Jayalalitha, all of whom, as much as they like the good life, wouldn’t be seen dead in public with India Inc. There is a lesson in it for Modi.