GANDHINAGAR, India: Minister Narendra Modi will showcase his fiefdom of Gujarat Sunday to political and business leaders, trying to demonstrate how the thriving western state can be the role model for India’s economic transformation.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon and World Bank head Jim Yong Kim will join a host of executives at the “Vibrant Gujarat” investment summit, alongside India’s premier.
Modi was Gujarat chief minister for 13 years before leading his Bharatiya Janata Party to a landslide election win in May, and much of his appeal centered around his economic stewardship of the coastal state.
Under the previous left-leaning Congress government, investors frequently complained about a hostile business climate in India, frustrated by bureaucracy and corruption.
In contrast, Gujarat won a reputation as India’s most investor-friendly state during the era of “Modi-nomics,” even if critics say he tilted the playing field in favor of big business through tax breaks and subsidies.
In its latest edition, The Economist said Gujarat “punches above its weight” and that the state’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate under Modi was almost 10 percent on average, faster than the country as a whole.
“Gujarat is richer, enjoys faster GDP growth and a greater intensity of jobs and industry than India as a whole. Mr. Modi’s reputation for clean government and economic competence rests on his record here,” it said.
One of the big draws has been the relative ease of land acquisition while infrastructure is impressive.
The commercial hub Ahmedabad and provincial capital Gandhinagar — which is hosting the three-day summit — are devoid of the transport gridlock that blights most cities. Power cuts are rare.
Ban is expected to tour a solar panel plant on Sunday while Kerry will visit a Ford auto factory which is to be shortly inaugurated.
Modi has unleashed a slew of reforms after growth slowed to its lowest rate for a decade under the dying days of Congress.
As well as simplifying labor rules, he has made manufacturing a priority in an echo of his time in Gujarat.
Surjit Bhalla, chairman of Oxus Investments asset management firm, saw no reason why Gujarat’s success couldn’t be replicated nationally.
“There is nothing particular about the Gujarat model in any case. It has just always had a more positive attitude about investment and growth, which has worked in its favor,” Delhi-based Bhalla told Agence France-Presse.
“It [Vibrant Gujarat] is a positive message to the world. It’s to say ‘India is changing, we’re open to receiving foreign investments’ and really to say we are getting rid of all that was hobbling economic development and growth,” he added.
In his address, Modi is expected to promote his ‘Make in India’ campaign launched in September to fire up a manufacturing sector which lags behind China.
The US will be an official partner country of the conference for the first time since its 2003 launch.
The meeting will give Kerry the chance to showcase “the vast opportunity for the American private sector” as Modi seeks to transform India’s economy, a senior State Department official said.
“The United States is going to be a key player and a key partner in that transformation and rejuvenation of the Indian economy, and that this is a win-win for both countries and for both peoples,” the official added.
Kerry’s visit to India, his second in six months, comes a fortnight before US President Barack Obama is due in New Delhi as Washington seeks to warm up sometimes frosty ties.
It is only a year since Washington ended a de facto boycott of Modi who was blacklisted following deadly communal riots in Gujarat in 2002.
Modi received a rapturous reception from members of the diaspora on a visit to the US last autumn and a number of Indian origin bosses, including MasterCard’s Ajaypal Singh Banga, will be in Gujarat.
Others slated to attend include Vodafone chief Vittorio Colao and SAAB boss Lars Olof Lindgren who will rub shoulders with Indian executives such as Tata chairman Cyrus Mistry and Reliance Industries boss Mukesh Ambani.