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PM stays true to type

Lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay is not known as an eloquent speaker.  But he did steal the hearts of those attending the Vibrant Gujarat Summit, among who were influential world leaders and India’s top-drawer businesspeople.

The short address was punctuated with loud applause as lyonchhoen mixed his speech with chaste Hindi to the astonishment of the audience and the leaders.  Rave reviews, together with videos of the address, appeared on many websites, both local and Indian.  And he didn’t read that from a speech copy.

But what was there in the address that really caught the attention of the illustrative dignitaries in Prime Minister Modi’s own Gujarat?  If the fluent Hindi struck a chord with the audience right from the start, lyonchhoen’s style of asking business people to invest was different, vastly and, perhaps, unexpectedly different.

Vibrant Gujarat is an annual investor’s summit, aimed at bringing together global business leaders, investors, corporations, thought leaders, policy and decision makers.  By late yesterday, memoranda of understanding worth billions of dollars in investments were committed to be invested in Gujarat or by Indian companies to invest in others.

In this scheme of big things, Lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay, representing a small country and thereby a smaller economy, didn’t have much to pitch for his country.  Besides the peace and stability and the clean energy, he didn’t have a lot to offer to lure investors.  He rather set conditions for investors to invest in Bhutan.

He stressed doing business with values.  Drawing inspiration from the concept of Gross National Happiness, lyonchhoen opened Bhutan for business and invited investors who would fulfill conditions.  At a time and at a summit, where businesses are exploring avenues for more profits and growth, the prime minister’s criteria for doing business with Bhutan didn’t feel out of place.

Rather, it was the most befitting address in Gujarat, the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi, who a long time ago warned of the dangers of unrestricted industrialisation.  It was befitting, because the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki Moon, while paying tribute to Gandhiji, he wrote in the guest book (at Sabarmati) and expressed the sentiment that he sincerely hoped that all world leaders and business leaders, and all the people around the world, would be inspired by his vision and teachings.

Lyonchhoen spoke his mind.  There was not much to offer for big business to invest in Bhutan besides our cautious approach to development.  Our GDP, like lyonchhoen said, was smaller than the some of the dignitaries’ personal wealth.  Foreign direct investment was restricted and we are landlocked.  Despite the government reviewing polices to improve ease of doing business, it will be difficult to see investors like they come to Gujarat.

But we have values in pursuing economic development.  Even criticised once for being a GNH skeptic, lyonchhoen stressed the development philosophy initiated by His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo at the summit.

It is hard to say if the addresses tempted any investors to come to Bhutan, but it did sell Bhutan well.

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