| Modi with Bajaj at the meeting. (PTI)
New Delhi, Feb. 6: Kabhi naram, kabhi garam — or blow hot, blow cold. Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi minces no words — those at the receiving end today were business barons, including Rahul Bajaj.
At a conclave organised by the CII here, Modi, the main speaker, started off with a tongue-lashing directed at top industrialists who tried to needle him by raising questions about Gujarat’s law and order.
Modi invited them and their “pseudo-secularist friends” to a separate meeting on his home turf where he would answer their “sharp questions”.
“CII ne Gujarat ke saath ghor anyay kiya hain, (CII has done grave injustice to Gujarat),” Modi told business leaders Bajaj and Jamshyd Godrej after being asked about the state’s law and order. The Gujarat chief minister, who led his party to victory in the state after widespread communal riots which his detractors claim he did nothing to contain, had been subjected earlier to “sharp” questions at a CII conclave last month in Mumbai.
Surprisingly, Bajaj had merely phrased popular concerns in an innocent manner and had couched the question with many praises of Gujarat and its chief minister.
In his introductory speech, Bajaj had said his grandfather, Jamnalal Bajaj, had brought Mahatma Gandhi, the apostle of peace, away from his ashram at Sabarmati in Gujarat to Maharashtra’s Wardha village.
Modi was probably upset by this remark since it seemed to suggest that peace had since deserted Gujarat. The Gujarat chief minister riposted that his state had not produced just Gandhi but also Sardar Patel, the Iron Man of India.
“Gujarat ko badnam karne ka koi karan nahin hain. Auron ka vested interest hain, aapka kya hain' (There is no need to malign Gujarat. Others have a vested interest in doing so, why do you want to join them')” Modi demanded to know from the industrialists present. Many of them have substantial investments in the state and looked worried by Modi’s vitriolic outburst.
“Gujarat is safe ... girls can drive their own scooters even at 2 in the night,” Modi asserted.
Bajaj’s statement that 2002 was a “lost year for Gujarat” also did not go down well with Modi, who had come with a bevy of bureaucrats to sell the idea of a safe and well-off Gujarat -- an ideal destination for investments.
“Gujarat’s excise collections have been the highest ... it means that factories were open and workers going to work every day,” Modi said. “How could this be if things were lost and the law and order situation is in a shambles'”
When some industrialists muttered among themselves that this was not quite the true situation and they had lost mandays because of the widespread rioting, they were met by glares from the podium.
Modi went on an overdrive to show industry his other face -- that of a friendly reformer. “Maidan khula hain; aapka swagat ke liye mein khara hoon (The market is open. I am waiting to welcome you). I want to convert red tape into red carpet and I mean it, you will see when you come).”
But what caused the biggest flutter was when Delhi-based industrialist, Siddharth Shriram, asked him in the most flattering tone about news of when he would hit the national stage. Though Modi sidestepped the loaded question, he smiled benignly at the questioner -- an answer by itself.
CII sources said the conclave had been organised with Modi as the chief speaker at the request of the Gujarat government and as part of a series of such meetings where state leaders, including Andhra chief minister Chandrababu Naidu and Karnataka’s S.M. Krishna had been asked to speak.