From the margins, dalit tycoons take centrestage

New Delhi, December, 31 : Dalit entrepreneurs will make a historic journey to Delhi next week for a pre-budget meeting with Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia. 
 This is the first time that business leaders from the country's most marginalized communities will be included in the government's budget consultation process.

The meeting is scheduled for Monday afternoon with 40 entrepreneurs from different parts of the country expected to attend. It marks the emergence of a nascent trend in India of enterprising dalits choosing to create independent businesses instead of depending on quotas in government jobs to get ahead.

Some of them have built impressive empires like Kalpana Saroj who heads Kamani Tubes with an estimated turnover of Rs 500 crore and Ratibhai Makwana whose Rs 300-crore Gujarat Pickers is one of the country's largest polymer distributors. The delegation will be led by Milind Kamble who has taken the initiative of grouping dalit entrepreneurs into a Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Kamble saw the invitation from the Plan panel as an acknowledgement that Dalit entrepreneurs are making their presence felt in Indian business circles. "It's a great day for us that the government wants to hear our expectations from the union budget," he said. "We want the government to formulate a policy to help Dalit businesses to grow so that we get out of the reservation trap."

But there's more to the Delhi visit than a meeting with Montek. The presence of such a large group of dalit business leaders in the Capital will also be an occasion to do some image re-engineering by presenting the changing face of these communities. On Sunday evening, delegation members will hold an open dialogue with intelligentsia representatives on their plans for 2011 and their dreams and ambitions.

"Somebody will announce his plans to buy a private jet, another will be purchasing a helicopter," said Chandrabhan Prasad, a Dalit writer and intellectual who is organizing the dialogue. "The idea is to tell everybody that Dalits have arrived and have the same social and economic capacity as business leaders from other communities."


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