Saturday, 9 February 2013

Mr Modi's speech - misleading or harmless embellishment?

I saw and heard Mr Narendra Modi’s 6 Feb speech to students in New Delhi – it was carried live on all the major news channels and I caught it in Nagpur. It was widely billed as Mr Modi’s bid to be the BJP’s candidate for Prime Minister should they win the next general election.

It was an impressive performance: using no notes he held the attention of his young audience by focusing on his priorities and what he would offer as a future prime minister. Development and good governance: he had achieved that in Gujarat, he argued, and could repeat the performance for the country. Development to him meant progress on 3 fronts, farm productivity and growth, industrial sector reforms and service sector expansion.  Conscious of his audience he argued persuasively his belief that the future belonged to the young people of India. (Note 1)

He did not once mention Hindutva or the Ram Mandir issue – clever move. Nor of course did he mention Godhra – again good move. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that sorry episode, it is well behind us and some would argue time to move on (I disagree but many in India have moved on).

I was getting increasingly convinced that India needed someone like Mr Modi to provide strong leadership and push hard on development.  Until that is, he narrated, towards the end of his speech,  a story that sounded so positive and so heartening that I decided to look further into it.

Some years ago, Mr Modi said, a young man, diffident, a Canadian of Gujaratai origin, not a gifted communicator, saw him in his office with a somewhat rambling story of his plans for building a busisness. Mr Modi soon felt that he was a bit of a time waster and so brought the meeting to a close by referring him to the District Collector of some part of Gujarat.

Some 40 months later ( later on in the story this became a year later) this young man once again sought an audience with me, said Mr  Modi. He almost tried to wriggle out of another potentially pointless meeting when his PA told him that the young man wished to invite Mr Modi to an inauguration of a new factory.  The young entrepreneur also asked Mr Modi to reserve a date in his diary for 6 months later when there would be a product launch – the first output from this factory.

By now of course everyone in the audience was agog to know more about this young man and his impressive business acumen. Mr Modi never revealed the name of the entrepreneur but told his audience with  all the flourish of a stage performer that the product of this factory in Gujarat was well known to his student audience – they were the coaches of the Delhi Metro!

Wow! That was some story. It captured at once the industrial enterprise of Gujarat and the role of young people in economic development.  But could it be too good to be true? I decided to dig around a bit.

A Google search tells you a great deal of the design and procurement processes of the Delhi Metro. By and large it is a success story having delivered the Metro ahead of the planned time table and within budget. The main factor responsible for this remarkable achievement – esp given that it was delivered in that cesspit of corruption known as New Delhi – witness the mess that was the Commonwealth Games of 2010 – was Mr Sreedharan, the boss of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation. He insisted on and won absolute freedom from political interference  and meddling in the procurement process.  

The trains were sourced from more than one company. Those that are manufactured in Gujarat are the MOVIA cars that the Canandian company Bombardier Transportation was contracted to supply for 3 of the Metro’s Phase II lines. Bombardier set up a dedicated manufacturing facility in Savli, Vadodara (Note 2)  for this purpose. Bombardier Transportation is of course not new to the rail transportation industry In India. They have long had a presence in the manufacture of components for India’s state owned railways.  Other companies involved in the Delhi Metro are Hyundai and Mistubishi for Phase I. The first 60 0f Hyundai’s trains were made in their Korean plants but all the others are manufactured in BEML’s plant in Bangalore.  

This is quite a different narrative from Mr Modi’s version of a sole entrepreneur achieving something big. When a big international firm wins a contract to set up a manufacturing unit for an infrastructure project of the national profile of a brand new metro system in the nation’s capital, it is unilkely the charismatic and business friendly chief minister of the state lucky enough to host the factory will first hear of it through a young,  wet-behind-the- ears, entrepreneur.

So why the needless  embellishment of what would have been a success story even if more simply presented. The narrative that "Gujarat was chosen as the site for a brand new manufacturing facility to make trains for the Delhi metro – because we have the skilled manpower and the infrastructure" - that in itself would have been some story to boast about 

His speech was not scripted, of course – most Indian politicians tend to speak extempore without notes, especially  when making speeches at mass gatherings. It could be he got carried away by his own rhetoric – he was after all emphasizing the role of young entrepreneurs and wanted to use the example of Bombardier’s investment in Gujarat.

I have no doubt  that Mr Modi did not intend to deceive, but in emebellishing a story that needed no spicing up, he may have fallen prey to a temptation politicians find hard to resist - to say whatever will please the crowd.    


2.  See Projects Monitor Press notice on Nov 17 2008.
Bombardier Transportation India, the domestic outfit of US-based Bombardier Inc, inaugurated its new railway coach manufacturing plant on November 12. Located at Savli in Gujarat's Vadodara district, the plant will be India's first fully foreign-owned railway coach manufacturing unit.
Initially, the unit will manufacture 340 Movia metro cars for the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation. The cars, valued at Rs 2,360 crore ($590 million), were order by DMRC in July last year. The cars will be delivered ahead of the Commonwealth Games to be held at New Delhi in October 2010. Bombardier also won a follow-up order in March this year for supplying 84 Movia cars, valued at Rs 548 crore.
Bombardier already has a production site at Vadodara, Gujarat, which has been in operation since 1996 for the manufacture of a range of converters, electronic controls for trains, communications for three-phase propulsion technology, as well as circuit breakers and tap-changers. Bombardier's signalling office and software development centre are also located at Vadodara, where it develops software for signalling and traction applications, catering to the software requirements of Bombardier Transportation worldwide.’

For  information on Savli, Vadodara see