2 November, 2006, Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies)
Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of the western state of Gujarat, landed in China yesterday to present his State. He believes Gujarat is capable of competing economically with China, Germany and Japan, rather than limiting itself to merely competing with other states of the Indian Union.
The politician, accompanied by a delegation composed of 35 industrialists and state officials, will stay for six days, during which he will visit the capital as well as Shanghai, Shenzhen and Jurong. One of his spokesmen said he planned to focus on the sectors of chemicals, pharmaceutics, tourism, jewellery, electronics, and fashion.
This trip has a particular significance for the entire Union of India, which is currently debating the pros and cons of a project to set up Special Economic Zones in the country. Gujarat did not wait for a common line to be agreed: it has already put in place the infrastructure to build 11 such zones and to create a total of 23. Modi also invited Japan to develop zones on commercial terms to entice international investors.
The Gujarat leader, a distinguished member of the Bharatia Janata Party [BJP, India’s largest political party of nationalist-fundamentalist inspiration], said there were two main objectives behind his visit: to study Special Economic Zones in China (and to request help to develop them in his state) and to also to seek Chinese investment in India’s energy sector.
China is not the first country this political leader has visited: in a bid to launch himself as an expert on privatization and globalization, he has already undertaken similar trips to Israel, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia over the past two years. The US, however, denied him an entry visa because of his ties with Indian extremist factions.
Undeterred by Washington’s decision, Modi said in Singapore: “Gujarat has a unique combination of a strategic geographic location, infrastructure, multi-lingual workforce and concentration of corporate and financial resources and a pro-business environment."
Before leaving for Beijing, he said: “I don’t want the state to compete with other states in the Union. I want Gujarat to compete with China, Germany and Japan." In fact, Gujarat is among the fastest growing states in India. Against the national growth rate of around 7%, Gujarat is galloping ahead at over 12.5% growth rate.
Modi is the second high-ranking member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh [RSS, paramilitary movement of Hindu nationalists] to visit China following a trip by the movement’s official spokesman, Ram Madhav. Some analysts say the stand taken by nationalists in favour of trade with China is motivated by a shared desire to create problems for the secular party leading the Union: the Congress.
Modi has more than one reason to want the downfall of the Congress. In 2002, only the popular following he has enjoyed over the years – thanks to his defence of Hindu nationalism – protected him from political reprisals when the Muslim minority in his state was targeted in a massacre. More than 2,000 Muslims were massacred with impunity after a train incident although there was no proof to substantiate charges that they were behind the train damage. Modi emerged unscathed from the crisis.