Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Dalit, Patel agitation "shadow" over Vibrant Gujarat roadshows in Australia: Delegation considers issue "relevant"

Pankaj Kumar during a roadshow in Australia
By Our Representative
Social unrest, especially Dalit and Patel agitations, in Gujarat is beginning to find resonance abroad, with clear danger looming large over the powers-that-be that if the state government fails to handle them, these might vitiate the high-profile Vibrant Gujarat global investors' summit, planned for January 11-12, 2017.
First indications of this were available during the road shows organized by the Gujarat government in Australia, where senior Gujarat cadre IAS bureaucrat Pankaj Kumar has gone in order to elicit support for the biennial event. Beginning his roadshows in Mebourne on August 1, his plans included visiting Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane.
Known to close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Kumar served in the chief minister's office (CMO) when Modi was chief minister. Begun as biennial event in 2003 by Modi as part of his effort to divert world attention from 2002 Gujarat riots, Vibrant Gujarat summits have been biennial events meant to highlight the state's "business-friendly" atmosphere.
During his road shows, say reports, sharp questions were posed to Kumar about whether the latest round of “social unrest” would affect Gujarat's business friendly image. Members of the delegation, which included prominent businessmen, agreed that the questions were “relevant” and needed to be answered.
While Kumar's presentation on Vibrant Gujarat focused on clean energy, clean technologies, mining and mining technologies, education, sports and sports technologies, research, design and financial services, a sharp question on social unrest from the invitees, who included Australian businessmen and consultants, took the Gujarat delegation aback.
“South Asia Times”, a prominent non-resident Indian (NRI) journal from Melbourne, reports in its news portal that during the question-answer session, Kumar was asked “about ‘social unrest’ in Gujarat and its effect on the business atmosphere in the state.”
While not denying that there was social unrest, Kumar reportedly insisted, “The Gujaratis have business in their blood and these things do not effect business”.
The portal comments, “The obvious reference was to the recent Patidar (Patel) and Dalit agitations in the state which, many media reports indicate, question the credibility of the current chief minister to handle them, in the light of coming state elections in Punjab and Utter Pradesh.”
Kumar is in Australia when Gujarat got further focus following the resignation of Anandiben Patel as the Gujarat chief minister, the portal indicates. Reflecting the view of NRIs in Australia, it says, “Some suspect, infighting within the ruling party (BJP) is playing a big role in Anandiben’s decision to quit.”
Anandiben declared her decision to resign a day after massive Dalit rally took place in Ahmedabad to protest against atrocities on Dalits, the July 11 Una incident, in which four Dalit youths were brutally beaten up after being tied to an SUV for suspicion of beef eating, even though they were skinning a dead cow, a hereditary caste occupation.
The top portal quotes a member of the delegation under Kumar, Manjula Pooja Shroff of Ahmedabad's Calorx Group, which has interests in education, real estate, hospitality and finance, has been quoted as saying the “question” raised on social unrest was “relevant”, though hastening to add, “But things are not as bad as it is sought to be projected.”
The Melbourne roadshow was addressed by Austrialia-India Business Council (AIBC) chairperson Sheba Nandkeolyar, who told the Gujarat delegation on how to form a “meaningful business alliances in Australia.”
The event was also addressed by Stephen Manallack, President AIBC Victoria Chapter; Manika Jain, consul-general of India in Melbourne; Amanda Pickrell a Victoria government representative, and Deepak Goyal, representing the top consulting firm KPMG, which organized the trip.

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