Vibrant Pravasi: Hip, Hype and Hoopla
BY R.K. MISRA
Sound and light shows are not alien to India. These are used often to showcase both history and heritage. Gujarat in general and Gandhinagar-Ahmedabad in particular, were this last week, witness to a spectacular sound and light show in three back to back events stretching from January 7 to 13. The Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas (PBD) and the Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors Summit (VGGIS) with the international kite festival interspersed between the two. Deafening sound and dazzling light. UN secretary general, US secretary of state, World Bank president, representatives of global ruling hierarchies, diplomats, CEOs of worldwide business and trade, Indian industry giants to name a few…. ones run out of breath but the list goes on and on. Figures outpaced figurines. Not the alluring deadly damsels but the bloated ones, where the eye lost sight of the other end and the mind cartwheeled. Rs 2,50,00,00,00,00,000 worth of investment promises, stated the sedate chief minister .Count the zeroes yourself. ‘Firms sign 21,000 MOUs to invest Rs 25 lakh crores’, screamed headlines. Absurdity has a new address!
The media in Gujarat has for long been witness to the hype and hoopla surrounding the biennial vibrant summits that has been the hallmark of chief minister Narendra Modi’s decade and a quarter rule of the state. There is enough figurative evidence to prove that only a fraction of it gets to be realized. The Gujarat Congress puts the figure of actual realization at 2.5 per cent of MoUs and independent analysts at double the Congress percentage. One needs to remember that Gujarat has been way ahead of other states ever since it’s inception largely because of the business acumen of it’s people. All the worthies who ruled Gujarat irrespective of their political affiliations contributed their mite to the state. Modi is one of them. Only that he marketed himself better turning into a brand himself!
The ostensible reason for holding PBD and VGGIS in the state capital of Gujarat was to showcase Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s work as chief minister of Gujarat. The implication being that this would provide a glimpse of what the man who secured a noteworthy national mandate on his own steam last year, had in mind for the country over the next five years. At the end of the three day event, disillusioned NRIs were left wondering what they had bargained for.
If the PBD was brought to Gujarat for Modi, the VGGIS was taken to the centre by him. It was no more a Gujarat show. The focus had been shifted from Gujarat to the nation. The flavor was not ‘vibrant’ any longer. It was ‘make in India’.
Though PBD was flagged off with union External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel addressing the youth on the first day and inauguration of the Vibrant Gujarat global trade show the same evening, it essentially bore the stamp of the PM. No sooner was the trade show inaugurated and the VIPs moved out, the stalls wore a deserted look.
However all eyes were set on the second day of the event when Prime Minister Modi was slated to inaugurate it. The Mahatma Mandir convention centre designed to hold over 5000 people was packed to the brim. The entire audience was all eyes and ears for the prime Minister but many were left at sea when he chose to speak in hindi. A 120 strong delegation from Malaysia was heard complaining because they did not understand the language. This complaint was heard from a large number of other foreign delegates of Indian origin. No English translation of his speech was made available. The Prime Minister was more obliging at the VGGIS where he spoke in english and advance copies of the text were distributed in advance.
The inauguration of the Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas (PBD) January 8 was meant to coincide with the return of the greatest NRI, Mahatma Gandhi to India on this day a hundred years ago. Interestingly though the entire PBD event was built around the Mahatma’s return, no one from his family was in attendance. Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma who was Ahmedabad just a day earlier to launch his new book,” The prince of Gujarat: The Extraordinary story of prince Gopaldas Desai”, steered clear of the PBD.
The irony was that while there was massive lighting ,both in Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar of roads and public buildings, even the entire Sabarmati riverfront had been lit up at great cost but the two original ashrams of the Mahatma at Kochrab, Paldi and the Sabarmati ashram remained their austere self. There was no such lighting at either of the two places.
The third and final day’s proceedings at the PBD celebrations presented a disappointing look. The session on ‘girmitias’ hardly had 40 people. In some other such sessions, school and college children besides volunteers were made to sit to fill up the seats in the audience as most of the visiting guests had taken off to watch the global trade show. The two 500cc Harley Davidson superbikes purchased by the Ahmedabad police to provide escort to the prime minister could not be put to use as the policemen were not trained to drive them.
If the PBD was marred by glitches and gaffes galore ,the international kite festival fell short of foreign participants and foreign students studying in Ahmedabad were made to stand in, while VGGIS was a Modi show. The focus remained on him with a lot of fluff and little force. In essence, the triad of events served it’s purpose well-a boost to brand Modi, with Gujarat picking up the tabs!