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Modi vs Mamata: let battle be joined

What if instead of Mamata Banerjee, the people of West Bengal had the prospect of five years of Narendra Modi in charge? The question came up because a senior Gujarat delegation has just undertaken a three-day tour of Britain in an effort to attract UK investment and promote the “Vibrant Gujarat summit” to be held in January next year.

At a seminar in London, we were bombarded with statistic after statistic which added up to one thing: when it came to economic growth, Gujarat was way ahead of other states. West Bengal was not even playing in the same league.

In one video Ratan Tata came on to say in his characteristically quiet, understated way: “Two years ago I said that if you were not in Gujarat you were stupid — I am glad I took my own advice.”

Also in the video was Barry Gardiner, Labour member of Parliament (MP) for Brent North, a London constituency with a large Gujarati electorate.

After he had hosted a reception for the Gujarat delegation, I asked Barry what was special about Gujarat.

Barry summed up with brutal directness: “Narendra Modi! Simply that.”

The MP has been going to Gujarat for 10 years and seen the progress for himself. “You remember when Keshubhai (Patel, former chief minister) was there. There was widespread corruption. There was no sense of urgency. Whatever anybody says about Modi, whatever the diplomatic niceties, he has delivered for all the people of Gujarat, Muslim and Hindu together, in a way that no other state leader has done. There is no getting away from that. Why did Ratan Tata make the comments that he did?”

Without any prompting, he ridiculed the antics in West Bengal. “More important than that, for three years — for three years! — they had been negotiating with the government in West Bengal. Three years! In three days, Tata got the approvals within Gujarat.”

A delegation member, Mahendra Patel, vice-president, Gujarat Chamber of Commerce, interjected: “A motor car factory is like a mother factory — for every job inside, there will be 100 outside.”

By now, Barry was in full flow. “Modi cut through the red tape, he cut through the corruption, Tata got a deal and what happens? You have got the production of the Nano going from there. Politicians are actually wonderful talkers — they are bloody awful administrators. They are bloody awful executives. Modi is not like that. He cuts — that’s what cutting it means — it means getting things done. And he does.”

Was it not ironic that Modi himself had felt unable to lead his delegation?

Barry grinned: “If he were here I am confident this room would be packed.”

Britain to Bangalore

Another talented young Indian has joined the exodus from the West back to India, I can report.

In London, if I wanted any information on new British stamps, I could rely on Rohan Srinivasan, whose PR firm, Eulogy!, holds the account for the Royal Mail.

Now, after a couple of exploratory trips to India, Rohan has opened an Eulogy! office in India. After barely four months, Eulogy! has picked up high profile clients and acquired offices in Delhi and Mumbai as well.

“If you can crack the Indian market,” Rohan tells me from his new home in Bangalore, “the world is your oyster.”

He was born in Calcutta, the son of Krishnan Srinivasan, the former foreign secretary and Commonwealth deputy secretary general who today writes authoritatively on foreign affairs.

Rohan, who is 33, says: “My ambition is to spread our PR footprint in this market and make this agency the No. 1 company in the Indo-UK sphere.”

He adds: “There are currently many PR tie-ups in the Indian market between foreign companies and Indian. A recent survey by Eulogy! showed that Indian directors account for more than one in 10 non-British directors in the UK under the age of 30. These findings prove how far India has come on the world stage and the tremendous impact Indians abroad are having in the UK.”

Rohan takes it philosophically if the power cuts out suddenly at night. “Expect the unexpected in India. Having lived in London for 16 years, India takes getting used to but I have to say it’s good to be back.”

Bleak House

Sitting next to a linguist from my year at a college reunion dinner last week, we got to talk about Bleak House, as one does. I bought my copy in 2005 as a gesture of solidarity with my niece who was then studying the Charles Dickens novel at her school in Calcutta. Alas, it has remained unread in common with so much that I possess. It so happens that in 2005 Bleak House was dramatised by BBC television in 15 episodes.

Written in 20 instalments between March 1852 and September 1853, this ninth novel by Dickens reflected the divide in English society between rich and poor, my friend informed me.

Could it be a metaphor for India Shining of 9 per cent GDP, I wondered?

My friend, a Dickens scholar, has very kindly offered to take me to dinner when I have finished the novel, hopefully by the end of the year. I wrote back to say I discovered the book but fell asleep after reading page one, which is often the way.

My friend was most understanding and wrote back: “It’s not an easy read because it is dense. Did you notice, before you fell asleep, that virtually the whole first page was written without any main verb? (I hadn’t, I must admit) It is a famous opening, and is often set for critical appreciation as a fine example of English prose. I do feel it is Dickens’s greatest novel, and is worth persevering with, but we’ll meet before the end of the year, whether you have finished it or not!! It marks a tremendous change from everything he wrote before.”

ON SCREEN: An image of the BBC’s adaptation of Bleak House

Book business

The chances of an Indian origin author winning the prestigious £30,000 Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Book of the Year Award 2010 has shortened to one in three.

This is because the shortlist of six, just announced, includes: The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar (Little, Brown, Twelve/Hachette Group) and Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy by Raghuram Rajan (Princeton University Press).

The judges include Uganda-born Baroness Shriti Vadera, who made grown men weep, it is alleged, when she was Gordon Brown’s adviser at the Treasury.

Tittle tattle

Who is “India’s most charismatic MP”?

The trustees of Jaisalmer in Jeopardy, who are striving to restore the heritage site in Rajasthan, say they are “delighted to announce their forthcoming fundraising event to be held at Bonham’s New Bond Street saleroom, on October 5 to coincide with the forthcoming Indian and Islamic sale”.

“Following a champagne reception, and preceding a private view of the Indian and Islamic sale lots, former UN deputy secretary general and India’s most charismatic MP, Shashi Tharoor, will be introduced by India’s greatest contemporary artist, M.F. Husain. Tharoor’s talk will conclude with a brief Q&A from the floor.”

Tickets are £45 but, as Shashi would tweet, “that’s cheap at the price”.

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