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Vibrant Overseas Presence At Gujarat Investor Summit
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Global statesmen and business titans descend on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state on Sunday to pay homage to the man they are counting on to unleash big-bang reforms and create one of the few bright spots in a troubled world economy.
Big business cheered Modi when he won India's strongest election mandate in 30 years last May, and he has caught its attention with eye-catching initiatives like a "Make in India" campaign complete with lion logo.
Now, the 64-year-old leader is ramping up the Vibrant Gujarat jamboree he founded as the state's chief minister in 2003, turning it into a pitch to put his nation of 1.25 billion people, most of them poor, firmly on the investment map.
US Secretary of State John Kerry leads a roll call of politicians and bosses converging on Modi's home town of Gandhinagar for the three-day bash. President Barack Obama visits India later this month.
Yet, eight months into Modi's rule, the failure of Asia's third-biggest economy to emerge from its longest growth slowdown in a generation is raising questions about how much substance there is behind Modi's promise of "red carpet, not red tape".
His Make in India drive has drawn comparisons with the manufacturing miracle that turned China into the world's second-largest economy, outstripping India's fourfold since 1980.
Yet sceptics argue that India's competitive strengths are not in making and exporting things, but in areas like information technology and business process outsourcing where it is a world leader.
"India will have to be original, innovative, to get investors interested this time. We have to prove that we're different," said Anil Gupta, professor of public finance at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, Gujarat's largest city.
Vibrant Gujarat, held every two years, has yielded billions of dollars in investment promises but only a fraction of the deals announced has come to fruition.
Now, Modi needs investors to put their money where their mouths are to lift stagnant capital investment that has held back India's growth to 5.3 per cent.
That's high by world standards, but short of the 7-8 per cent India needs to create work for the one million people who join the workforce every month.
Modi has made headway on making it easier for outsiders to invest more in real estate, insurance and defence, but a rigid labour market and rotten infrastructure are huge deterrents.
India slipped to 142nd out of 189 in the World Bank's latest Doing Business Index. Modi wants India in the top 50.
"Investors want credibility, stability and at the same time flexibility. Right now, India is a bit of an inflexible market," said Kilbinder Dosanjh, a director for Asia at Eurasia Group, a geopolitical risk consultancy.
The opposition Congress party's call for general strike in the state against the event received a mixed response on Saturday. Several Congress leaders were detained during protests.
The Congress had called for the strike against the government spending huge money on the summit.
Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the summit had received good response from various countries and that Gujarat was drawing attention of multinational companies who wanted to invest in India.
Modi Holds Talks
Trade and terrorism were the main issues discussed in the meetings Modi had with foreign dignitaries, including Bhutan's Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay on the margins of the summit.
Modi on Saturday met the leaders of various delegations from Britain, Japan and Singapore.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is among the foreign dignitaries attending the summit.
During his discussions with Janusz Piechocinski, Deputy Prime Minister of Poland, they talked about the possibilities for defence cooperation through the "Make in India" initiative as also the possibilities of cooperation in the mining sector.
Terror threats and a trade pact to boost commercial ties were some of the key issues deliberated during Modi's interactions with Lord Ian Livingston, British Minister of State for Trade and Investment, and Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb.
Trade ties were also focus of the meetings with Singapore and Japanese delegations. Modi and S. Iswaran, Singapore's Second Minister for Trade and Industry, talked about India's ambitious smart city initiative.
The need to move quickly on doubling Japanese investment in India was taken up during the talks with Japanese State Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry Yosuke Takagi.