Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi,seen as the BJPs prime ministerial candidate,Thursday told a group of some 120 CEOs that India needs empowered states,flexible labour laws and a governance-backed development agenda.
The closed-door meeting was held at a five-star hotel and Modi was a listener for the first 20 minutes of the 75-odd minute exchange,with the CEOs seeking his views on a wide range of issues from his prime ministerial ambition to water,environment,poverty,the federal nature of the government,labour laws,education and skilling.
He did not note down the questions we asked,but responded to each one of them, said a CEO who was present. His response to the question on whether the Gujarat model of development could be replicated,was striking,said another CEO.
India cannot have a one size fits all solution. Even within Gujarat,there are many districts with each having its own strengths and weaknesses. We need to have tailor-made solution for each state in the country, Modi is learnt to have said.
Reckoning that poverty and unemployment can be dealt with only by pursuing growth,Modi said states must be given the flexibility to write their own labour laws.
He said the TDPs N Chandrababu Naidu and he had earlier suggested to the Centre that the labour issue should be removed from the concurrent list. This will give states the leeway to frame labour laws given their own peculiarity. No state can afford to ignore the interest of the labour force while framing laws,Modi pointed out, said a corporate leader who asked Modi about easing labour laws.
Responding to concerns of social tensions and caste differences,Modi said India must increase opportunities so that everyone has access to them. Tensions arise when there is scarcity; so it is best to address the supply side, he was quoted as saying.
A vocal proponent of a strong federal government,Modi stressed upon the need to empower the states. India can be strong only if states are strong. The Centre cannot look down upon states,rather it should treat them as equal partners in growth, he said.
He also called for a formal mechanism to resolve inter-state disputes or differences and for states to work together. Today,there is a procedure in place for addressing Centre-state issues. But there is no mechanism for states to resolve their disputes,or work together, Modi said,pointing out that the Tamil Nadu-Karnataka water dispute is yet to be fully resolved.
He was quite understated and modest during the entire conversation, said a CEO,who did not wish to be identified. The 120-odd CEOs included Chanda Kochhar,Adi Godrej,Nimesh Kampani,L&Ts K Venkataramanan,Sashi Ruia,R Mukundan and Ravi Kant from the Tata Group and Madhur Bajaj.
Ratan Tata,Cyrus Mistry,the Ambani brothers and Anand Mahindra were,however,not present.
Modi,according to the CEOs,told them he was there to hear more from them than to give a speech.
I expected a lunch,but I was served a breakfast, he told them in jest. During the exchange,a CEO asked him,You have provided good governance in Gujarat and we want you to provide the same to the country. Will our dreams get fulfilled?
To which Modi replied: Some people have indirectly asked me about the PM issue but I would say that I am a humble worker of the party.
To a question on the stalled Goods and Services Tax legislation,Modi said he fully supported it. States need better IT infrastructure before GST is implemented. The economic autonomy of states have to be maintained. I am not against it,but in the present form it is beneficial for some states while it puts others at a disadvantage, he said.
Responding to the governments efforts to stabilise the markets,Modi said people and investors must have faith in the country. Taking a dig at Finance Minister P Chidambaram,he said,It is amazing that the FM of the country talks about the markets,but the markets fail to react. This means there is no impact of what the FM says.
In the backdrop of industrial projects being held up due to environmental concerns,Modi told India Inc that technology-based solutions for the environment was critical for the growth of industry and the nation. If the last 30 years was about IT,the next 30 years will be about ET, he said,referring to environment technology.
The opportunity thrown open following large-scale urbanisation was not lost on the Gujarat CM. Urbanisation is a huge opportunity and we should not ignore it, he said. Modi said he would like to have segment-wise meetings with the industry in the future.
Modis audience,however,did not ask him about the 2002 riots in Gujarat or the baggage of communal politics he is identified with by some sections,it is learnt.