MILPITAS, Calif. – Every month, around one million people in India turn 25 and are ready to enter the workforce, but there just aren’t enough jobs to go around.
Sounds bleak, but in the last 15 or so years Gujarat has taken a leadership role to turn this adversity into an opportunity.
In 2003, one year after the state was battered by the Godhra riots, Narendra Modi, then the state’s chief minister, launched an ambitious project called ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ to rekindle investor interest in his state. Vibrant Gujarat is an investment summit held every other year.
It seems to have worked. Commitments totaling crores of rupees generated by the biennial summits have made Gujarat an even bigger manufacturing powerhouse, as speakers observed here Sept. 23 at a networking dinner sponsored by the United States India Strategic Partnership Forum and the Consulate General of San Francisco.
A delegation headed by Arvind Agarwal, additional chief secretary of Gujarat, came to share the state’s new initiatives with Silicon Valley leaders, hoping to spur interest in them to invest in Gujarat.
“The main purpose of the summits is to promote bilateral trade and commerce between India and other countries,” said Agarwal, as he touted the state’s growth in a plethora of areas, including in engineering, petrochemicals, wind power and biotechnology. Technology is also going to create growth in the field of health care, he told the audience members, who included several Indian American entrepreneurs.
At 22 percent, Gujarat currently ranks first in exports, he said. And in a country notorious for power outages and water supply shortages, Gujarat is possibly the only state that has a “fully functional gas and water supply grid,” allowing an unbroken supply of both services, he said.
Parag Amin, director and founding team member of the year-old iCreate (International Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology), said that Prime Minister Modi, while launching Vibrant Gujarat, said that it would have a single-window clearance so the state could be business friendly. For the most part, “we have no interference from the government,” Amin said.
One of the main tasks of iCreate is to help businesses find the right partner to work with if they are looking to invest in Gujarat, or if businesses there are looking to invest in other countries. If a start-up has a good product to offer and is credible, the Gujarat government invests “risk capital” in it, iCreate’s chief executive officer Anupam Jalote said.
San Francisco Consul General Venkatesan Ashok urged Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to invest in Gujarat, promising that all investments will go into its emerging markets.
Agarwal urged attendees to attend the three-day 2019 summit in Gandhinagar, India, from Jan. 18 through 20. The theme of this year’s summit, the ninth of its kind, is “Shaping a New India.” Agarwal said that the state that is laying the foundation of a new India is Gujarat.
Just last week, an MoU was signed between Gujarat-based Blue Ray Aviation and Concord, California-based Pacific States Aviation, according to Gaurav Verma, chief operating officer of the US India Strategic Partnership Forum.
Its manufacturing and trade successes notwithstanding, critics say that some of Gujarat’s social indicators need improving. The state’s infant mortality rate is 33 per 1,000 births, one of the highest in the nation. And at 28:1, the state has one of the lowest student-teacher ratios. The failure rate of high school students is also high.
Asked in a private interview about these issues, Agarwal told India-West that improvements are happening, albeit slowly. As far as primary education goes, he cited the establishment of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, a flagship program to achieve universal elementary education. Additionally, girls are being encouraged to enroll in school through the government’s Kanya Kalavani program launched last year, he said.
As for the state’s infant mortality rate, it has reduced “substantially over the years” and is “one of the strong points” of Gujarat’s health indicators, Agarwal asserted.
According to a report in The Hindu Business Line, Gujarat Chief Secretary J.N. Singh is reported to have said that at least 3.13 lakh persons have been given jobs by various Gujarat-based companies in the years between 2014 and 2016.
“…many people are asking us how much employment was generated in the past. We are pleased to inform you that Gujarat tops the charts across the country in providing employment. In total, over 13.45 lakh persons were given jobs in the last three years," Singh reportedly told reporters.
Some critics have said that the numbers are overblown, but even if they are, a number of states believe that Gujarat’s summits are worth emulating, largely because both the rural and urban areas have benefited from the influx of new investments.
As iCreate’s Jalote observed to India-West: “The trickle down economy is widely seen in Gujarat. It has trickled into the pocket of the man on the street.”