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Millennium Post

India INC raring for change

With the industry’s production, sales and bottom-line growth curves and graphs all moving downward to the right in unison, business barons are getting increasingly impatient with the current nearly-motionless the two Congress Party-led governments at the centre surviving on oxygen drawn from some of its arch political rivals such as Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Part (SP) and allies turned adversaries like Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).

The Congress-led multi-party United Progressive Alliance (UPA II) of 2009 has been practically reduced to a joint venture government between the Congress duos – Sonia Gandhi’s Indian National Congress (INC) and Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) – after the two other important allies Trinamool Congress (TMC) and DMK, having a combined strength of 37 Lok Sabha members (MPs), severed official ties with the UPA.

The development leading to over a-year-long political paralysis at the Centre has cast deep shadow on the country’s economy and vitiated its overall business environment. Nothing is moving. Projects are stalled. Land lease agreements, licences and clearances are either cancelled or withheld. Plan expenditures are pruned. The public outcry against corruption is becoming louder by the day. To top them all, an atmosphere of mutual suspicion has covertly soured the government-industry relations.

Consequently, industry and trade want this government’s quick exit and early Lok Sabha elections if that could help solve the current state of business stagnation. While Congress leaders harp on no-threat-to-the-government chorus and talk about elections only in 2014, industry barons are little impressed. In an unprecedented show of their no-confidence in the government, they have launched their own campaign for an early Lok Sabha election.

The apex business bodies’ latest bonhomie with next prime minister probables such as Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is, in a way, a loud expression of their frustration about working with this government. They have already let out their pdium, organising business lunch to hear out the two PM probables – RaGa and NaMo, the given acronyms for Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi, respectively.

Such acts are also interpreted as the industry’s subtle way of lobbying for an early election. Obviously, the industry is looking for faster relief from the current policy imbroglio, which has been permeating the country’s trade and business atmosphere almost since 2010-2011. Ironically, neither RaGa nor NaMo has much to do personally with the current policy paralysis at the Centre. The business barons’ growing enthusiasm around the two rival political persona is also suggestive of the fact that either they lack faith in the ability of the other national political leaders to lift the economy from its present hopeless situation, or they are still to approve a third alternative led by regional political satraps such as Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati, Jayalalithaa, Mamata Banerjee, Nitish Kumar and Naveen Patnaik.

So far, industry has avoided hobnobbing with the regional satraps at national conclaves. Incidentally, the domestic industry has rarely been anti-Left, which it often considers as a political shield against unequal competition from multinational corporations (MNCs) in manufacturing, trade, banking and services and infrastructure areas. The big business has long experience in dealing with leftist ‘friends’ and their trade unions. Many seniors in the business community rate the late Marxist leaders, Jyoti Basu and Indrajit Gupta, and also the present crop comprising men like Prakash Karat, Sitaram Yechury and D Raja are more pragmatic to their approach to industry and immensely more reliable than some of those hi-profile, less-clean Congress leaders in the government. Going by the call list, NaMo is preferred to RaGa in the first round. NaMo has addressed industry in his home state in Gujarat, which was attended by several business houses from Mumbai. He had already addressed two meetings in Delhi in as many months emphasizing on development, his panacea for all national political and economic ills. Although they were organised by non-business groups – an educational institution and a media house – his development message was music more to the ears of business leaders than to students and media persons. This week, he officially uses the Ficci platform in Delhi and a similar one provided by a group of Chambers of commerce and industry in Kolkata.

There is an unbelievably long queue of businessmen from the whole of Eastern India, seeking invitation to listen to Modi’s sermon. The organisers wanted to book Kolkata’s Netaji Indoor Stadium, which hosted the Congress centenary celebrations nearly 30-years-ago, to publicly felicitate him. But the request had been turned down by the state government on the ground that it was already booked earlier for the day. The changed venue is Mahajati Sadan, linked with the name of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, a revolutionary, freedom fighter and a former Congress president, who left the party following disagreement with Gandhi and Nehru.

But, the next round may as well belong to RaGa if Congress registers a thumping victory in the Karnataka assembly poll, next month, despite the fact that the Congress vice-president failed to impress the business community at the recently concluded CII annual meet in Delhi providing no specific prescription to treat the current economic ailments. RaGa spoke more like a future union rural and tribal development minister than a PM probable who would push growth and present a big picture of India as an economic and military power to earn confidence of the industry in his leadership. He even chose to avoid a response to a very important question from the floor on the deteriorating centre-state relations, which have stalled some of the country’s biggest infrastructure and core sector projects.

However, it would be foolish to discount RaGa’s ability to deliver on the basis of his Q & A performance at the CII meet. Actually, Raga had cleverly used the business forum to put his pro-poor, pro-deprived ideas across a much larger audience outside, the common man, in stark contrast of NaMo’s style using public forum to address more of industry and business friendly message. It is to be seen if post-CII RaGa obliges ballot box-shy business barons with early declaration of Lok Sabha polls too soon. (IPA)
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