Where do most Gujaratis outside India live? If you ask the British High Commissioner to India, Sir James Bevan, he will say Leicester.
“The city of Leicester is the city where I was born. So I feel in a very real sense that I too am in some way a son of Gujarat,” he said Saturday in a speech at the inaugural ceremony of the Vibrant Gujarat business summit.
U.S., Canadian and British diplomats, politicians and businessmen attending the event often draw attention to the substantial population of Gujarati expats in their countries, as they make a case for greater bilateral trade with one of India’s fastest growing state economies.
“Many Gujarati companies have successful operations in the U.K., in areas like renewable energy, engineering and pharmaceuticals. Several others have their European HQs there. And more and more Gujarati investment is coming to Britain,” said Mr. Bevan.
Gujaratis, like Punjabis, have been migrating to Western countries for several decades now, with many of them successfully setting up businesses there. In the U.S. and Canada, for Instance, Gujaratis are now synonymous with the motel industry.
These Gujaratis – and the Indian diaspora more broadly – have been a key link between businesses in the West and in India, often returning to their country of origin as heads of overseas companies, or getting Indian companies to invest overseas.
Ron Somers, president of the U.S.-India Business Council, estimated that half of the three million Indians living in the U.S. are Gujaratis. “Wherever Gujaratis go, they succeed,” he said at the conference.
Raymond E. Vickery Jr., senior director with the Albright Stonebridge group, a U.S.-based consulting firm, told India Real Time he believes that Indian expats in the U.S. were key to the civil nuclear deal signed by the two countries in 2008.
The deal allowed U.S. companies to invest in India’s nuclear power generation sector and also opened the doors for India to get technology and nuclear fuel from other international suppliers.
Mr. Vickery was previously with the U.S. Department of Commerce. Mr. Vickery, who often consults for natural gas companies, said the Gujarati expat community is spurring U.S. investment into Gujarat, “and I think it’s going to increase,” he added.
And Gujaratis in particularly have made their presence felt. “You walk into a hotel and could the owner could be a Patel,” he said.
But at the Vibrant Gujarat, it’s Canada that had the largest delegation, with a few members of Parliament and their minister for immigration Jason Keeney in attendance. At a seminar on Canada-Gujarat ties, Mr. Keeney gamely shook hands with the many Gujaratis thrusting him business cards and pitching business ideas, while posing for pictures.
Around a third of Indians settled in Canada are Gujaratis, Canadian MP Patrick Brown said in his speech at the summit.
“In Canada, the Gujaratis are not just successful entrepreneurs but also politically involved,” Canada’s High Commissioner to India Stewart Beck told India Real Time. He said the large population of Gujaratis settled in Canada helped push both Canadian investment in the state and vice versa.
As an example, Naval Bajaj, head of the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce, said 80% of Canada’s rough diamonds come to Gujarat for polishing. Gujarat is famous for its diamonds. “These diamonds now come in via Europe. If the two countries can trade in diamonds directly, that would be fantastic,” he said.
The Canadian who was turning the most heads at the conference was the mayor of Canada’s Markham town Frank Scarpitti.
“90% of the business delegates we have brought to the Vibrant Gujarat summit are expat Indians, who tell their story of [what it’s like] to do business and live in Canada,” he said, adding his advice to Mr. Kenney is to keep issuing visas for Indians.
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