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OffStumped For All Things Right of Center, Bringing a Right of Centre Reality Check to Indian Politics, News Media Reporting and Opinion now in Hindi अब आप के लिये हिंदी मे.
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The subject of today’s Offstumped post is not the high decibel battle in Parliament over the 123 Indo-US Nuclear Deal nor is it the contentious decision by the Manmohan Singh UPA Government to further ghettoize the Muslim Community by requiring Muslims to be appointed to key government positions in Muslim Majority areas, nor is it the political non-event of the silly season – Mamata Bannerjee’s assertion that she is standing on her own, read not with NDA anymore. The subject of today’s post is :

In the thick of the political silly season with a motivated rebel campaign against him what is Narendra Modi upto in Dalian ?

Now here is an image one rarely sees. Narendra Modi of the BJP, the target of psuedo-secular angst and left wing activism attempting to break his stereotyped image in dhothi and kurta.

That was Singapore Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong meeting  Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Dalian, China. The topic of conversation according Channel News Asia, Singapore was  economic development in Gujarat and opportunities for economic cooperation between Singapore and Gujarat. The WEF summer meeting is expected to draw together some 1,700 government officials, scholars and business leaders from 90 countries. The meeting will feature a discussion on India under the title: ‘Growth hotspots – focus on India.’  Keeping Modi company in  Dalian is an 80 member 80-member strong delegation from the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). The Modi contingent is 25 strong and is expected to showcase Gujarat’s spirit of enterprise and innovation, invite investments and create greater awareness on business opportunities.

Now here is the political question of the day.

What do you make of an Indian Political Leader a few months away from re-election weathering a perceptible undercurrent of anti-incumbency spending time at an International event to champion the spirit of enterprise ?

Why is this question significant ? Well let us examine the pronouncements of a few fellow BJP Leaders to better appreciate this.

The BJP in Uttar Pradesh has finally settled on a new President, a Brahmin one at that, thanks to the calculus of caste. So what did Mr. Rampathi Ram Tripathi have to say to mark his elevation

Alleging that the state government was playing into the hands of capitalists, Tripathi said the decision to sell sugar mills was a clear indication of anti-farmer motives

So here you have one section of the BJP that has more in common with the communists and mandalite socialists that it  still trapped in rhetoric of the past and then you have Mr. Modi who seems to be quite convinced he is doing the “Right thing” playing into the hands of capitalists, to borrow Tripathi’s rhetoric.

What is Modi tom-tomming in Dalian ?

The political hot potato – Special Economic Zones.

“Now Gujarat has emerged as the SEZ of India,” Modi told reporters after opening the Gujarat pavilion. The Mint has more highlights on the rest of his remarks which are not politically insignificant.

The Gujarat Chief Minister’s showcasing of the SEZ policy and tom-tomming his trackrecord in successfully implementing Special Economic Zones is no small matter for very few politicians have shown either the courage or the conviction to take the SEZ issue to its logical conclusion. None have in fact taken the political risk of identifying themselves with the issue in an election year.

In a country where political parties resort to the temptation of populism with strong communal overtones as can be seen in the UPA’s push on Muslim Entitlement, it is very rare to see an incumbent Chief Minister identify himself so strongly with an issue that is hardly populist and makes an easy target of socialist and protectionist rhetoric.

Within the BJP itself there has been stiff resistance to SEZs. For example neighboring Rajasthan is witnessing dissidence over the SEZ issue.  The BJP in Goa has been expressing reservations of a different kind on the SEZs in that state. At the forefront of the socialist rhetoric is Dr. Murali Manohar Joshi who’s recent speech in Haryana makes one wonder if there is any distinction at all between him and Prakash Karat on economic issues.

In stark contrast stands Narendra Modi’s steadfast championing of SEZs and his latest move to showcase the spirit of Enterprise.

Now we have been here before with reformist Chief Ministers getting ahead of themselves in their dalliances with big industry before taking a complete about turn to make common cause with communists. Chandrababu Naidu is yet to show any signs having regained his mental balance after the 2004 drubbing.

So is Narendra Modi’s commitment to the spirit of enterprise for real ?

If his public utterances and policy moves in an election year are anything to go by, one must assume they are for real. With the opposition Congress in Gujarat raising the heat on land allocation to SEZs, Modi’s economic agenda is not without political risks.

Offstumped Bottomline: Narendra Modi is defying conventional wisdom to break the stereotype of incumbent Chief Ministers in an election yeas. By not resorting to populist socialist rhetoric he is taking a gamble. Whether this will guarantee electoral dividends in an election year remains to be seen.

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