Growing up in Ahmedabad in 80’s and early 90’s, I often heard an urban legend about Dhirubhai Ambani being asked by students at IIMA, why there are virtually no Gujaratis among those accepted into the prestigious city universities IIMA, NID and CEPT which rank #1 in the nation. The answer Dhirubhai gave was simple and cheeky – well, someone needs to hire those graduates. Such has been the sheer pride biznace holds among Gujaratis, that the quote was accepted as factual. While not denying the Gujarati trait for commerce, I didn’t think the folklore was true – Dhirubhai too, after all, ensured his two sons got an MBA from the IIMA equivalent in the US, Stanford and Wharton. You see, Gujarat is and was, ever since I can remember, the state attracting the most FDI in India. The largest Grassroots refineries and ports, no problem- we have 25% of India’s seashore for the sea trade. Move aside Mamata, Nano is welcome here with tax sops no one can match. Solar parks, we’ll bring the sun and barren land. But when it came to bringing the Gujarati talent back home for ventures such as Finance and Technology, well those things are best not discussed.
In the internet era, I don’t see any variation of the Dhirubhai quote doing the rounds. Closest is Ratan Tata’s remark “You’re indeed stupid if you are not in Gujarat”. Well, Mr. Tata – of the Dozen or more startups personally funded by you, are any in Gujarat? And why was Gujarat last in the list of states for TCS to start an office? I mean, its quite obvious to anyone who is not in denial, Gujarat sucks ass when it comes to the world of startups (I must, preemptively, include myself in that lot having had my fair share of failure). Forget Gujarat’s ability to motivate its own who seek knowledge (those who do, prefer to go out of state or country – the Gujarati entrepreneurial spirit isn’t lost abroad), Gujarat cannot even incentivise IIM, NID and CEPT graduates to stay back (unless you count <1% and growing an achievement) in Gujarat, in spite of Gujarat attracting one of the highest FDI’s in the region ($12B, vs. all of India getting $9B startup capital in the same year 2015).
Alright, then why aren’t I jumping in joy – isn’t $12B better than $9B? Well, FDI is desirable, but don’t mistake it with entrepreneurship and creativity. Freedom drives creativity, not capital. Ask any young red blooded Indian, it’s the homegrown startups which make us proud. Not the capital pouring down investment schemes making stuff made by mindless mechanized industrial bodies, and is floated on some global stock exchange which doesn’t give a shit. Not to say capital chasing startups isn’t sometimes mindless, it is – but it subscribes to the craziness of entrepreneurism – where, a 20 year old can dethrone a dynasty.
But Gujarat would have none of it. Our party parade, Vibrant Gujarat, is a place to show size matters – not creativity. Its PR machinery showcases a Rs. 5 crore drone project awarded to a 16 year old resident to show entrepreneurship is alive. But ask the Global Gujarati Elite in post-industrialized world if they even set foot in Gujarat when they visit India, the answer is “why would I? I could fucking get arrested” (1).
The Gujarati entrepreneurship is alive but not kicking – its needs a dose of the freedom spirit to boost some creativity required to make it into the post industrial world. Until then, hypocrisy prevails.
(1): For the uninitiated, you can get arrested in Gujarat or simply being the company you keep. If you’re in a company of 4 and there is an open bottle of any form of alcohol, you’re looking at 10 years of imprisonment.