Modi avoids talk of higher office

 13 Jan 2013 - 7:39


Gujarat state Chief Minister Narendra Modi addressing the audience during the valedictory function of the Vibrant Gujarat 2013 6th Global Summit at Mahatma Mandir in Gandhinagar, 30km from Ahmedabad, yesterday.

GANDHINAGAR: Fresh off his re-election as chief minister of Gujarat and amid expectations he could contend to be the next prime minister, Narendra Modi avoided talk of a bigger political future during a state investment event.

Still, Modi, one of India’s most popular and divisive politicians, was the star of his “Vibrant Gujarat Summit,” which featured a parade of corporate heavyweights as well as foreign officials who extolled the business-friendly state and Modi’s leadership even as they mostly kept clear of politics.

“In Gujarat, we see a culture of implementation, reflecting the qualities of the chief minister,” Cyrus Mistry, who recently succeeded Ratan Tata as head of the Tata Group, India’s biggest business house, said from a stage he shared with Modi.

In one of Modi’s biggest wins, in 2008 he convinced Tata Motors to build a factory in the state for its low-cost Nano after its plans to make the car in West Bengal were disrupted by farmers.

Last month, Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won 115 of the state assembly’s 182 seats against 61 for the Congress party, which heads a national government that has been beset by corruption scandals and presided over an economy on track this fiscal year for its slowest growth in a decade.

Modi appeared to downplay ambitions for higher office, making a point of inviting delegates to the next edition of the event in 2015. “When I gave a similar invitation in 2011, the media had mocked me saying I was yet to be re-elected and was already issuing invitations. This time, there is no such problem,” he said in his closing remarks, delivered in Hindi.

Gujarat, with a long tradition of entrepreneurship, has been a magnet for industrial investment thanks in part to what is widely regarded as efficient state government, which stands in contrast to the red tape and unpredictability elsewhere in India that frustrate businesses and investors.

One of the few major executives in attendance to speak openly of Modi as candidate for prime minister was Sanjay Lalbhai, chairman of Arvind Ltd, a textile maker based in nearby Ahmedabad. “We are dealing with him as the chief minister of Gujarat as of now, but I am sure he has the skills required at the national level also, the decisiveness, the leadership,” he said.

Others lauding Modi included the billionaire Ambani brothers. “Gujarat has been the birthplace of India’s greatest leaders. What all these men have said about leadership, Narendrabhai has practised in his 10-year tenure as chief minister,” Anil Ambani said, stopping short of expressing support for Modi as a potential prime minister, which he did in 2009. Reuters