Gujaratis tread the exit route - Trade slump, labour stalemate drive away business community

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  • Published 30.04.03

While the state government’s pitch teams are busy crisscrossing the country scouring for investment, the Gujaratis — one of the oldest expatriate business communities to settle in the city — are in shift mode.

According to Shyam Asher of Hulchul, a Gujarati magazine, the number of Gujarati-speaking people — including Hindus, Jains, Parsis, Muslims and the Bohra and Khoja communities — in the city is dwindling, a trend that can be traced back to the late 1980s and early 90s. “We conducted a survey in February 1997 and there were around 70,000 Gujaratis in the city, down from over 1.5 lakh, 15 years ago. We don’t have the latest figures, but no one seems to have come into Calcutta in the past six years. There has been a steady exodus of Gujaratis out of Calcutta, though,” he adds. No one has the latest numbers, but guesstimates peg the population at around 50,000.

Why are Gujaratis leaving the city they had once embraced as their home away from home? The common cause lies in the “lack of business opportunities” in the city and better growth prospects in their home state, neighbouring Maharashtra and southern cities like Bangalore and Chennai. Labour trouble is also cited as a reason behind the industrial stagnation and the subsequent exodus.

For Narendra Kapadia, vice-president of the 73-year-old Gujarat Club Calcutta, the present trend completes a full circle. “As per the history of our community in the state, people from Gujarat first came to Bengal during the time of Siraj-ud-Daula as cannon experts. It’s business that brought the community here and it’s an irony that today, they are leaving due to lack of opportunities.” The fact that the Gujaratis were always close to their roots has made the shifting process “smooth and easy”, feels Kapadia.

The community that dominated the Calcutta Stock Exchange once and also controlled much of the trade in jute, tea, coal, leather and textile and later diversified into manufacturing, finds little to latch on to, besides emotional ties. “My business partner chose to shut down operations in Calcutta due to labour trouble and lack of business and shifted to Mumbai five years back. My brother, Apurva, has also recently shifted base to Gujarat with his family,” confirms young entrepreneur Ketan Sanghvi, who deals in plastics. His father, Mangaldas Sanghvi, who migrated to Calcutta in the late 50s, speaks fluent Bengali, sings Rabindrasangeet, and is in no mood to move out of Calcutta.

It’s primarily the young who are eyeing the exit door, feels Heena Gorsia, secretary, Bhawanipur Gujarati Educational Society. “Despite strong bonding with the city, its culture and people, parents still prefer that their children settle outside Calcutta,” she concludes.