Updated: September 26, 2015 8:32:37 am
The captains of American big capital and big business walked in through the gilded doors of the Waldorf Astoria all day to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday, and walked out apparently reassured that the concerns they had taken in with them about doing business in India would be addressed.
Bullish. Upbeat. Positive. These were the three words that Indian officials employed repeatedly over 12 hours to describe what they said was the predominant mood among the chief executives of big American companies who called on Modi.
Prime Minister Modi did not stir out of the hotel at all on Thursday, meeting CEOs grouped by theme — financial sector, media industry, manufacturing and infrastructure industry — in rooms appropriately named Louis the XVI suite and Vanderbilt Room.
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A group of 42 CEOs from Fortune 500 companies was the last to meet him, over a dinner spread laid out by celebrity chef Vikas Khanna, specially flown in from New Delhi. Government spokesman Vikas Swarup estimated that the combined net worth of the men around the table was 4.5 trillion dollars.
Outside, all of New York was going crazy, massing behind barricades on Manhattan’s 5th Avenue all afternoon to catch a glimpse of another kind of CEO, a South American man whose favoured mode of transport is an old Fiat, and about whom Newsweek asked the question: Is the Pope Catholic?
The CEOs who met Modi had concerns, the Indian officials said — red tape, taxation laws, bankruptcy laws, the slow pace of infrastructure development.
But Modi assured them that “fundamentally, he believes in deregulation, he believes that the government should allow private sector space to develop, and that he is for predictable, transparent, accountable governance”, Swarup said.
“There was general consensus that PM is effecting change in India. The only thing that all the CEOs said was please make that change faster,” he said briefing reporters about the meetings.
India’s Ambassador to the United States Arun Singh said that during the interactions, the predominant sentiment was that “this was a very good moment for India in the global context, given the economic trends globally, that this was a unique opportunity for India to move ahead, attract capital, to focus on finding market access, and for production, for markets at home and abroad”.
The CEOs expressed appreciation and support for the Make in India programme, Skills India programme and Smart Cities, and other government initiatives, the officials said.
An otherwise media-shunning Modi had an expansive meeting with leaders of the American media and entertainment industry led by an ageing Rupert Murdoch of Newscorp, his son James Murdoch and the top honchos of 21st Century Fox, Sony, Discovery, Time Warner, A&E, and other. Those assembled, the younger Murdoch is said to have remarked, represented 40 per cent of the world’s entertainment industry.
“They said India is the biggest market for them, in terms of the growth of television and the number of channels, in terms of the youth and the content they want,” said Swarup.
The Prime Minister assured them that India was committed to protecting Intellectual Property Rights, and recognised that this was essential to protecting creativity.
What the media bosses wanted was digitisation, and 4G connectivity to be rolled out ASAP. Modi asked them to explore the possibilities of using communication and media to partner in India’s development story. He even suggested that they set up a communication university, or a chair in communications at a university. There was agreement that India was at a “unique position” to leapfrog technology and move ahead on digital technology.
Former New York mayor and philanthropist Michael Bloomberg called on Modi separately, and the Prime Minister thanked him for his guidance on the smart city project for which he is an adviser.
Among the others who met Modi were: Marilyn Hewson chairperson of defence manufacturer Lockheed Martin which has a facility in partnership with Tata in Hyderabad; and the CEO of Aecom, a large infrastructure company, which developed Dhulera port, and has contract for developing the Vizag smart city.
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