Why India Inc. is so miffed with Narendra Modi
As the countdown to 2019 Lok Sabha elections begins, the negative buzz among select CEOs is growing on the Narendra Modi government’s policies
On the record, India Inc. loves everything about Prime Minister Narendra Modi: what he does, what he says. Privately though, most of them claim something else altogether. This bipolar behaviour is not surprising given that most governments rarely ignore an insult, leave alone forgive one.
But as the countdown to the 2019 showdown begins, the negative buzz among select chief executive officers (CEOs) is growing; especially with the rumbles within the ruling coalition and the setback in the bypolls stoking expectations of a poll reversal for Modi in 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
This rethink, therefore, is significant. After all, it is the big corporates (officially or unofficially) who bankroll the campaigns of political parties.
With elections in India now extremely competitive, a large war chest will be a necessary (but not sufficient) condition to make a winning bid for Delhi. Whether this unhappiness leads to a realignment of India Inc.’s preferences is to be seen; something that will become apparent close to D-Day.
What then are the reasons for India Inc. to feel so miffed? After all, the economy is in, despite what critics claim, in a much better place; structural reforms have looked to unlock the efficiency parameters in the economy.
First, there is a perception issue with respect to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). While the relentless expansion of its electoral footprint in the last four years may have sent its political rivals into a funk, it has only worsened the perception of an unforgiving air that this regime has cultivated about itself (through a combination of errors of omission and commission).
Second, flowing from the above, India Inc.’s sense of disconcert has only worsened due to the ideological focus (read pro-poor) policies pursued in the last four years. Barring its failed attempt, in its first year in office, to rejig the land acquisition law in the country, the NDA under Modi has made social welfare and poverty alleviation the overarching focus of its policies. To be fair to them, it is not just good politics, but also something that should have been undertaken decades ago.
Given that this regime is the most right-of-centre government—in terms of their economic ideology too—this focus has disappointed India Inc.
They confide in private that they are being made to feel like second grade citizens; the disappointment is more pronounced because in 2014, a victorious Modi (inspired by his record in Gujarat) was perceived to be pro-business.
Third, linked to the above, India Inc. is particularly upset at the free rein given to investigative agencies targeting big-ticket corruption. Some high-profile cases, they believe, have been used to vilify the entire business community.
Further, the NDA’s anti-black money crusade topped by the demonetisation of high-value currencies has forced an unwelcome reset in their business model.
Fourth, promoters are, for the first time, insecure about their future. The successful launch of the debt tribunal is seeking an institutional solution to the vexing problem of bank loans that have turned toxic.
Yes, while banks are finding a way out of their bad debt crisis, existing promoters are being shown the door—something that is once again a bone of contention as far as promoters go.
Fifthly and finally, the decision to transition India to a rules-based regime (by implementing policies like goods and services tax (GST), debt tribunals, auction of natural resources, installing a regulator for the real estate and so on) has not gone down well with India Inc. most of whom have cut their teeth in an exception-based regime (honed by leveraging outdated concepts like the licensing regime pursued till 1991).
It is then clear that a section of India Inc. is unhappy with the Modi regime. Whether this will lead to a complete rethink is to be seen.
It is a tough choice. On one side, you have a politically stable regime which is trigger-happy on policy change that may not always be beneficial to India Inc.; on the other hand, the emerging political alternative seems to be a mix of parties without a clear anchor or a binding ideology.
Anil Padmanabhan is executive editor of Mint and writes every week on the intersection of politics and economics.
His Twitter handle is @capitalcalculus. Respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org
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