Gujarat set to pip Delhi in new year

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UN secretary-general Ban ki-Moon is coming to India. So is US secretary of state John Kerry. Joining them in early January will be a galaxy of leaders from nations ranging from emerging South Africa to tiny Macedonia. But Gujarat – not New Delhi – is their principal destination.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have shifted home from Gandhinagar to New Delhi this past May, but it is the capital of Gujarat that will transform into the country’s diplomatic centre at the start of 2015 as it hosts two back-to-back international summits.

The Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, from January 7-9, and the Vibrant Gujarat summit, from January 11-13, have previously too drawn foreign leaders. But this time it is the perception of Modi’s continuing interest in Gujarat that is at least in part attracting top rung visitors – for the first time – to the latest editions, diplomats from nations participating in the conclaves said.

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This is the first time the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, an annual summit started in 2003 to celebrate the Indian diaspora, will be held in Gujarat. The Vibrant Gujarat summit, started by Modi when he was chief minister – also in 2003 – is held every two years.

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“We’ll certainly be sidelined the first half of January,” an Indian diplomat said, laughing. “Perhaps the external affairs ministry should shift from South Block to Gandhinagar for a fortnight.”

The roll call of leaders visiting Gandhinagar is impressive.

Kerry, on his second India trip in six months, was originally scheduled to travel only to New Delhi in the second week of January for talks with foreign minister Sushma Swaraj on President Barack Obama’s visit as chief guest on Republic Day.

But even before Kerry’s New Delhi dates were firmed up, the Gujarat government communicated with the US State Department, inviting him to also travel to Gandhinagar for the Vibrant Gujarat summit, two US diplomats have confirmed.

“The state government, we concluded, must have been tipped off about secretary Kerry’s plans by someone in the central Indian government,” one of these US officials said. “If it’s important for the Prime Minister, we are happy to do what it takes.”

Few in the Indian diplomatic establishment can fathom how Ban, the UN secretary-general, can contribute to discussions at the Vibrant Gujarat meet, essentially an investors’ conference.

“Apart from helping with the branding of the event, I don’t see what role he (Ban) can play,” an official here said.

Janusz Piechocinski, the deputy Prime Minister of Poland, Nicola Gruevski, the Prime Minister of Macedonia, and a senior minister from the cabinet of Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta are among others who will attend the Vibrant Gujarat summit.

The Gandhinagar edition of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas too is attracting political leaders, including Priti Patel, the British Conservative Party MP from Witham in Essex. Patel was among the strongest votaries for renewing ties with Modi after he was reduced to a global pariah following the 2002 riots.

Guyana’s President Donald Ramotar and the newly elected Mauritius Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth will attend the summit, officials confirmed.

An anchor with CNBC TV18 for almost 4 years. Also co-anchors prime-time market shows like Power Breakfast, Traders only, Markets Mid-day and NSE Closing Bell.