news Monday, March 09, 2015 - 05:30

Chitra Subramaniam| The News Minute| January 22, 2015| 7.00 pm IST

Among the many myths surrounding the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos is that it was a developed world meeting of business leaders which turned into a coming out party for countries like India, Brazil and China, among others. 

What is relatively unknown is that two Indians from Pune were among the earliest members of the Geneva-based European Economic Forum (EEF) which preceded the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. 

Indians

The first Indian to visit the international business forum in the early eighties was the late Neelkanth Kalyani, father of Baba. N. Kalyani who turned Bharat Forge, the flagship company of the Kalyani Group into the world’s second-largest forgings manufacturer after ThyssenKrupp of Germany. Self-effacing and understated, Baba as his friends call him, is an old Davos hand. However, Rahul Bajaj (Bajaj Industries Pune) holds the world record of attending over 30 consecutive annual meetings of the forum. A veritable institution in the Davos circuit he is a go to person for everything you want to know about Davos and are too afraid to ask! 

Indians in Davos can be divided into two categories. The Bombay group has been coming for ages and the Delhi group is a more recent phenomenon following India’s liberalization efforts. Whoever says Delhi, says politicians and whoever says politicians from India, says Durbar. This has resulted in most Indians hanging around with other Indians and asking each other what is happening in India. Davos has seen it all – from a quiet India to Incredible India, to India Shinning to Make in India. The only people talking about India in Davos 2015 is Indians.

What do people do in Davos

Best described as speed-dating by a journalist, the buzzwords this year are social, future, growth and energy. So people are saying future social growth with energy - get it? At any given point in time, people in Davos are selling something or being solicited to buy something – it can range from a vending machine to an economy, an idea, a feeling – yes, a feeling, like self-healing. This year caring and sharing have taken a back seat since it became publicly known that 1500 private jets brought in summiteers too busy to take the train and even major NGOs are giving the WEF a miss. 

Americans come in droves and some of the best sessions are devoted to science and technology, but these go largely unnoticed in the media.

The village starts to empty by close of business on Friday – in essence WEF is a 48-hour meeting. 

Caste System

Davos has a caste system. It is called badges. If you are important which means anything from being able to pay to flattering the right people, you get a white badge which provides access to all areas in the WEF. There are a few other colours denoting technical staff or security. Journalists considered unimportant by WEF are given orange badges and editors are known to have come to fisticuffs to get the “white one!” The organisers of the WEF dislike people who have cracked the system, especially the other business class (OBCs – nomenclature mine) who work the system seamlessly without paying hundreds and thousands of dollars in fees and subscriptions and flit in and out without pomp and show. 

Security

This is not as complicated as securing New Delhi as there is only one main road leading in and another leading out with feeder roads all of which can be blocked in minutes. Remember, Switzerland has a civilian army and the country can be mobilized in 48 hours. During the WEF, the village is secured in several circles and the closer you get to the centre, the more guards you see. But nothing is obtrusive, not even the heightened alert following the Paris attacks. Even the barbed wire is covered with white cloth and sprayed with snow to look like a small mountain. Trains and busses, the backbone of Switzerland’s transport system, run normally, on time. 

In the beginning…

It was a sanitarium. People from all over the world including India came to Davos for clean mountain air when they were diagnosed with tuberculosis. The architecture of the village is working-class with dormitory-like buildings. The WEF is held in a bunker-like building which is helpful for VIPs and their security. There are many theories about how Klaus Schwab, a professor of economics from Geneva University built this global phenomenon. The most enduring one is that it is modeled on a meeting that was put together by former US Secretary of State George Shultz where American businessmen and politicians got together reportedly in Jacuzzis in California, away from the prying eyes of the media and minders, to discuss business and politics. 

The ski slopes in Davos initially had a few hundred people going about their business silently. Now the WEF is like an exclusive golf club membership – thousands of exclusive people avoided by a few hundred gathering in private to avoid harassment by rookies.

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