| Tarun Das with Narendra Modi at the meeting in Mumbai. (AFP)
Mumbai, Jan 18: Like Banquo’s ghost, the Ghost of Godhra came here today to haunt Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi at a meeting with corporate honchos when a human rights activist demanded to know why the country’s apex industry chamber — the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) — was feting a “murderer” and giving him a platform to draw investments to what Modi calls India’s Sunshine State.
The meeting organised by the CII was meant to be a renewal of a love affair that had gone sour after the Godhra riots. As Tarun Das, CII’s general secretary, said: “Gujarat and CII’s is an old prem (love affair); we are delighted to renew that relationship.”
The CII, the premier association of Indian industrialists, had invited Modi to address a select group of senior CEOs and industrialists on the business opportunities in Gujarat. The theme for the meet: Gujarat — economic development and opportunity.
The organisers of the meeting had a nagging fear that the meeting would be hijacked by human rights activists — and it kept them on tenterhooks. If it happened at the Pravasi Sammelan in Delhi, it could happen here, too.
Like a Bollywood star, Modi arrived 90 minutes late for his date with the industrialists: he would see them on his terms and no longer would he be cowed or apologetic before the smart set, especially after the strong mandate he had received in the recent elections. Last April, for instance, he had refused to come to a CII meeting in Delhi and had sent former finance minister Suresh Mehta to argue his case.
At the April meeting, Mehta had got into a slanging match with Anu Aga, chairperson of Pune-based engineering company Thermax Ltd, who had heaped scorn and criticised the government. But now industry could not ignore Modi — even Aga remained silent.
But not Jairus Danajee, an activist from Insaaniyat, a human rights activist group. After Modi had trotted out his spiel about how progressive Gujarat was and how he would convert “red tapism to a red carpet”, the floor was thrown open to questions.
Danajee managed to catch the eye of Jamshed Godrej, who was moderating the event, and dropped the bombshell: “Why is this CII giving credibility to a leader who has blood on his hands. There is no justice in Gujarat. You have blood on your hands, Mr Modi.”
Dumbfounded by the sudden turn of events, Godrej said this was not the forum to ask these questions even as businessmen near the activist tried to shout him down. As he was being pushed out of the hall, Jairus fired the last salvo: “Is this democracy, Mr Modi'”
The chief minister finally regained his composure and directed the volunteers not to push him out. “Unhein rehene deejeeye (let him stay. He (Jairus) has to now listen to my answer. Five crore Gujaratis have answered through the ballot. Even then, I am ready to face any court hearing and, if found guilty, I am also willing to go to the gallows,” Modi said.
Realising that the event had been hijacked yet again by another human rights activist, Modi said: “The media will trumpet this, more than anything else that happened.”
But there were industrialists at hand to try and retrieve the situation. Anil Munibhai Naik, chief of Larsen & Toubro, mollified the chief minister by saying there were events that took place, but it was a “mere storm in the teacup”.
Naik said there was more hype than substance in the bloody events in Gujarat, while reminding the chief minister that his company had the second largest investment in the state of Rs 6,000 crore.
The meeting was bristling with business barons and bankers: there was Narottam Sekhsaria, the cement baron, Prashant Ruia of the Essar group, P.P. Vora of IDBI, Aroon Purie, head of the India Today group and Prabhu Chawla, the magazine’s editor. Chintan Parikh of the Ashima group, Pradip Madhavji, chairman of Thomas Cook, Nimesh Kampani of JM Morgan Stanley and Maitreya Doshi of Premier Automobiles were all waiting patiently to hear Modi.
“The portents were all bad, right from the start,” a police official rued later.
For starters, Modi was late and the industrialists had to be kept entertained till he came. The state government officials thought it would be a good idea to show why the state was such a great investment destination. However, the film projector conked out.
The fast-track elevators in the five-star hotel crawled as hotel staff scrambled to scrape off the posters that had mysteriously appeared on the hotel walls. They read: “Gujarat khamosh raheingen toh kal sanaata chaiyegein (If Gujarat remains silent today, there will be a deathly stillness tomorrow).”
When the chief minister finally made his appearance, the whole assembly of businessmen rose to applaud him.
Without much ado, the chief minister made a brilliant speech that spoke of his five-point agenda which promises Gyan Shakti, Jal Shakti, Urja Shakti, Jana Shakti and Raksha Shakti which will be the cornerstones for development of the new state.
He challenged the Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra governments to allow him to raise the Narmada dam to 110 feet from its present 95 feet. “I’ll supply electricity generated by the hydel power project in 145 days,” he vowed.
Nimesh Kampani, the merchant banker from investment bank JM Morgan Stanley, said if the state government was really serious about privatisation, it should make a start with fertiliser companies like GSFC and GNFC.
Soon after, all hell broke loose.
Jairus and Geeta Seshu — another activist — have been detained at the police station till Modi leaves town, as a precautionary measure.