Updated: September 28, 2015 12:23:21 am
For a country many look to as the next big emerging growth engine, just when the current one is sputtering after a virtually uninterrupted 35-year run, it matters a great deal to be seen and heard on the world stage. This is what Prime Minister Narendra Modi has apparently attempted in his various foreign trips and interactions with world leaders, even if there are cynics who might view these more as acts of self-projection. Any aspiring power, nevertheless, has to assert itself in the world arena and show that it means business while willing to proactively engage on issues from global security to climate change. Modi’s latest US visit — where he has held roundtables with top American CEOs across sectors, and made a powerful pitch for India’s permanent membership in the UN Security Council (UNSC) along with Japan, Germany and Brazil — should be viewed as part of this larger signalling exercise.
The main purpose behind his reaching out to business leaders, both in New York and Silicon Valley, has seemingly been to reassure them that India is indeed the place today to invest in — be it in infrastructure and smart cities, consumer-facing sectors or even transformative digital technology and app-based products. Moreover, the country has a government under him that is firmly committed to reforms and de-regulation; while the pace of these may not always match up to expectations, one need not harbour any doubts over their direction. The same India-cannot-be-ignored message and keenness to occupy centrestage in world affairs was sought to be conveyed by the call for an urgent reform of the UNSC to “include the world’s largest democracies (and) major locomotives of the global economy”. There can, likewise, be no meaningful 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development without taking into account the growth and industrialisation aspirations of 1.3 billion people representing one-sixth of humanity.
But all these right noises and photo-ops with Fortune 500 CEOs will not carry credibility unless accompanied by concrete policy action back home. Investors ultimately want ease of doing business — which is what a robust bankruptcy law and a nationwide goods and services tax regime would greatly enable. They seek stability, transparency and predictability in taxation and regulatory policies. The current government hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory — whether in trying to break the legislative logjam in Parliament, creating new uncertainties through retrospective tax demands on capital gains by foreign portfolio investors (thankfully, since resolved) or the forced withdrawal of Maggi noodles from stores based on questionable sampling and testing procedures. Similar uncomfortable questions would be asked about whether Modi’s messages of openness are consistent with the anti-minorities, venom-spitting views of some of his own ministers. A country aspiring for global leadership cannot be seen to tolerate such small-minded parochialism.
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