By Ramesh Kanitkar
Under the stewardship of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has set sights on becoming a $5 trillion economy in five years from now, up from about $3 trillion at present. Can India pull it off, or shall we say, can’t it? The target may seem ambitious, but is certainly not beyond the indomitable spirit of Indian enterprise! What is essentially required is a political and bureaucratic commitment to work overtime to make a ‘sare jahan se achcha’ Bharat, by creating an ecosystem that unleashes the ‘animal spirits’ of Indian business. For long, India has been a prisoner to socialist dogma, a maze of rules and regulations and flip-flop in policy-making. A fundamental shift in mindset is needed – unless ample wealth is created, no amount of ‘fair distribution’ would ensure ease of living for the poor. Unfortunately, job creators are seen as bloodsuckers, to put it crudely. Highly conscious of this, Modi, who hails from Gujarat – a state where ‘making money’ is not looked down upon – said in his Independence Day speech this year that wealth creators must be honoured. From the ramparts of Red Fort, he said people involved in creating wealth were, to him, “the wealth of the country”. He stressed that people should stop viewing wealth creators with suspicion and that they deserved greater respect.
Greater wealth creation would lead to greater distribution and welfare of the people. “Our investors should invest more, earn more, and generate more jobs,” he said. Modi’s SMS to Ratan Tata inviting him to set up a Nano car plant in Gujarat, after being hounded at Singur in West Bengal, is history. The Singur episode highlighted the anti-success and anti-wealth mentality pervasive and endemic in our society, including a section of political leadership and bureaucracy. This has to change for India to achieve her growth potential. Our business ecosystem has changed since the days of then Prime Ministers P V Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh, but the job of dismantling the fetters is only half done.
Some years ago, Gautam Adani didn’t get an audience with the ‘political CEO’ during his Bihar visit! He went on to set up industry in neighbouring Jharkhand. The recent scrapping of large contracts signed earlier in Andhra Pradesh is indicative of the whimsical functioning of a section of our politicians. These points to the deep-rooted malaise in our mindset that wealth is evil and rich people are bad people! Eminent jurist and economist of yesteryears, late Nani A Palkhivala had once pointed out, citing figures, that the number of jobs created till then in government and in organised industry was almost the same. What this meant was that people engaged in production in the industry were being regulated by an equal number of government officials. A lopsided development model, to say the least. It was again Palkhivala who had made a distinction in the colour of black money. The money earned by a doctor from private practice is through perfectly legal means but turns black for not being declared in income-tax returns.
On the other hand, money made on the sly by politicians, government officials, smugglers, bootleggers etc is through patently illegal means and is hidden from the I-T department too. Yet, politicos and top government babus are held in high esteem, while rich businessmen and industrialists are seen as bad, evil people! The Modi government has repealed some laws and simplified some others, but more needs to be done. Way back in 1990, leading English daily of Gujarat used to name a businessman in an I-T case only after conviction, and not after a raid. It is a moot point if this kind of respect for wealth creators is possible in these times of media boom. If we are not to bequeath misery and poverty to our children, the society has to shed its anti-investor, anti-wealth creator, anti-achiever and anti-success culture. PM Modi has struck the right note in his Independence Day address. On his part, he should continue to focus on clarity and stability in policymaking, and shun any flip-flop. INAV