The first business event kicked off with almost 200 Chinese companies in attendance. They were in-depth presentations on Gujarat and the industry and investment opportunities. Special focus was on the Dholera special investment region that was coming up as part of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor.
Mr. Modi, on his fourth visit to China, spoke in English (with real-time translation in Chinese on the headphones) about Gujarat’s development model and how it had taken a different path from the rest of India. By combining social and economic growth, by focusing on both rural and urban areas, by providing for stability in both politics and policies, Gujarat had created a paradigm shift in good governance and development in India.
One of the interesting elements of the presentations was the extent of localisation the team from Gujarat had done. The presentations had Chinese text, the videos were in Chinese. Business cards handed out by the government team (including Mr. Narendra Modi) were in red, and in Mandarin. These may appear trivial, but as someone said to me, it shows a real seriousness of intent of doing business.
As I talked to some of the locals during breaks, it become clear that they saw in Gujarat and Mr. Modi was a level of seriousness that few Indian politicians had ever demonstrated. This no-nonsense approach was what business wanted.
The focused presentations and the professional approach were very well received. . The programme (as also the entire trip) ran absolutely on time, which was a refreshing change from what I usually encounter in most seminars I have attended in India. To Gujarat’s credit, even the Vibrant Gujarat seminar I had attended in Mumbai a year ago at the Taj started and ended absolutely on time.
As a colleague from the business delegation put it, the tone is set top-down. He had been with Mr. Modi on previous delegations, and every one of them was focused and packed. This is what made the state tick – a marked contrast to many other parts of India. He said that Mr. Modi had done the magic in the same Indian context – the same bureaucrats and government administration, the same laws, and the same processes. It all goes to show, he said, that change is possible in India if the leader is committed – and has the support of the people, of course.
In the afternoon, Mr. Narendra Modi had meetings with people from different levels of the government. I was not part of these meetings. The anecdotal accounts that I got were glowing – of the reception received and the engagement shown. The respect accorded to Mr. Modi was something usually reserved for heads of nations.
For his part, Mr. Modi did not hesitate in bringing up the difficult issues amidst the business talk – China’s role in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh, the stapled visas, the maps, and also the detention of 22 diamond traders from Surat in Shenzhen.
Listening to the accounts and talking to some of the more knowledgeable people, it was clear that China was using the meetings with Mr. Modi to send multiple messages – that it viewed Mr. Modi as a leader who may have a bigger national role to play in the future and to the US, that even if Mr. Modi was not welcome there, he was most welcome in China. And at the end of the day, politics and business are intertwined, and it is American businesses that would end up being the losers.