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Non Resident Indians: Gujarat

by Sir J. C. Chande

“GUJARAT is where a single Gujarati resides” is a popular saying. It can be any corner of the world. The enterprise is the same. Whatever the odds, he will prosper. Most likely, he will stay vegetarian, worship deities in his home and when the time comes, go back to Gujarat , marry a comely girl and the two will brave the new surroundings.

The two from that westernmost corner of India could multiply with time, if there are opportunities.

During my visit to the United States , even in small towns in the back of beyond, I stayed in motels run by Patels. Indeed, the two rhymed and rocked together.

The Patel would provide clean beds and efficient communications but being vegetarian, no food. That had to be bought and eaten in a restaurant next door. It was outsourcing, long before it came into vogue elsewhere.

I found the Gujaratis living well in Britain , driving limousines. They worked hard, running newspaper kiosks. They also worshipped and their women spent lavishly on clothes and gold ornaments. Quite like the people back home.

Never forgetting their roots, they often return to Gujarat , but always repatriating money to aged relations and sending in charity to build a home, hospital, school or temple.

The Arabian Sea has beckoned them over the centuries, since much of Gujarat is parched. I have known families who have traded from the Persian Gulf to Japan . This was, of course, before the exodus to the West from the 1960s onwards.

The late Prince Klaus of the Netherlands once said how impressed he was in the 1940s at the way a provision store in front of his house in Africa , run by a Gujarati family, virtually never closed. Every member of the family took turns manning it.

So impressed was he that he advised Dutch businessmen to invest in India with a warning: “If you don’t go there, others will.”

Unlike most of the other Indian diaspora, the Gujaratis did not go overseas at the behest of the British rulers, to lay rail tracks and work in sugarcane plantations. They made their own way, long before, and as traders. They alternated between competing and cooperating with the British colonialists in lands as far apart as Fiji and Guyana , with Africa in between.

In rare cases, they took sides. One such occasion was the late 18th century during the British siege of Zanzibar . The Gujarati traders chose to side with the sultan. But all that is history.

They have proved law-abiding even during the most adverse circumstances they faced in Africa . Save one British-born man who joined the al-Qaeda network in the United Kingdom , none has been found wanting as a citizen of the country he has chosen to reside.

How has Gujarat , carved out as a separate state in 1960, fared? It has been a mixed bag, but very different from the rest of India .

Its latest achievement has been to welcome Nano, the world’s cheapest car, that will roll out before the end of year.

Ratan Tata had chosen West Bengal with an eye on the potential market in Southeast Asia , but was booted out by political protests. He had tempting offers of tax concessions from several other states, eager to rehabilitate Nano. He chose Gujarat , this time eyeing the West Asian market.

Besides good infrastructure, Gujarat offers him industrial peace, which is most important to him. The percentage of man-days lost in Gujarat due to labour unrest is 0.42 per cent, the lowest in India .

Tata and many other entrepreneurs are impressed that under Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the face of industrial Gujarat is changing. Obviously, they are prepared to forget and forgive the large-scale killings of 2002, after Modi renewed his popular mandate not once, but twice.

According to the August 2008 report of the National Council of Applied Economic Research), a premier Indian economic think-tank, the richest city in India is Surat, ahead of Bangalore and Chennai, with an average annual household income of over US$11,000 (RM38,500) per year.

Eighty per cent of all diamonds sold in the world are polished in Surat ‘s 10,000 diamond units. The only non-Jews in the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem diamond bourse are Gujaratis, who have an impressive presence in Antwerp , the world’s biggest diamond hub. Hence, between 2004-5 and 2007-8, Surat ‘s middle class doubled in size and its poor reduced by a third.

The fifth richest city in India is Ahmedabad, ahead of Mumbai and Delhi , and miles ahead of Kolkata. Of Gujarat ‘s 18,048 villages, 17,940 have electricity. The world’s largest oil refinery is coming up in Jamnagar . Owned by Reliance, it refines 660,000 barrels of oil a day and will double that this year.

Thirty per cent of India ‘s cotton is grown in Gujarat, 40 per cent of India ‘s art-silk is manufactured in Surat , employing 700,000 people. The world’s third largest denim manufacturer is Ahmedabad’s Arvind Mills.

A KPMG report says 40 per cent of India ‘s pharmaceutical industry is based in Gujarat with companies like Torrent, Zydus Cadila, Alembic, Dishman and Sun Pharma.

Gujarat ‘s gross domestic product has been growing at 12 per cent annually for the last 12 years. This is as fast as China ‘s.

India’s wealthiest man, Mukesh Ambani of Reliance, is Gujarati. Forbes says he is the world’s fifth richest man, worth US$43 billion. Azim Premji of IT giant Wipro is Gujarati. He is the world’s 21st richest man, worth US$17 billion. Ten of the 25 richest Indians are Gujarati. Some of the best business communities in India — Parsis, Jains, Memons, Banias, Khojas and Bohras — speak Gujarati. Wherever they live and prosper, their home is Gujarat .

South Asia’s two greatest leaders, Mahatma Gandhi and Mohammed Ali Jinnah, were both Gujaratis from trading communities, one a Bania, the other a Khoja.

Gujaratis number 55 million, five per cent of India’s population living on six per cent of its surface area, but hold 30 per cent of all Indian stock.

Gujaratis account for 16 per cent of all Indian exports and 17 per cent of GDP. Need one say more, except that my roots too are in Gujarat ?

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