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Business News/ Opinion / Views/  Opinion | Encouragement from the Red Fort’s ramparts

Opinion | Encouragement from the Red Fort’s ramparts

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech was notable for the special attention paid to private enterprise and the role of wealth creation in the country’s progress

(Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint)Premium
(Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint)

Among the standout features of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 15 August speech this year was the clear support expressed for private businesses and entrepreneurship. Speaking from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the occasion of India’s 73rd Independence Day, he hailed wealth creators as the veritable wealth of the nation. The Prime Minister called for a need to alter the way we view businessmen and industrialists. His message was unequivocal: Wealth creation is a great national service and we must not look at entrepreneurs with suspicion. He could not have been more forthright. Modi’s words of reassurance assume salience in the backdrop of an economic slowdown amid weak investment and sporadic complaints of tax harassment. A higher taxation levy on the country’s super rich—earning above 2 crore per year—has also given many the impression of a change in the government’s disposition towards the wealthy. To be sure, Modi’s speech addressed other major issues of national importance as well. He clarified his stand on Jammu and Kashmir, for example, saying that the withdrawal of its special status had ushered in a new order of “one nation, one Constitution". The Prime Minister also spoke of the Jal Jeevan Mission, under which drinking water is to be provided to every household, and called for sustainable agriculture that reduces the use of chemical fertilizers. But what was notable was his effort to dispel the pervasive sense of gloom over the state of India’s economy.

Arguing that the foundation of the economy was strong, Modi laid out an investment-led growth path that would help the country achieve a gross domestic product figure of $5 trillion by 2024-25. He pledged to pump in 100 trillion into infrastructure development, while signalling to investors that his government was committed to making the policy environment more predictable and stable. Modi seemed to express impatience with the piecemeal approach to reforms. “India does not want incremental progress," said the Prime Minister. “A high jump is needed." This could be taken to presage a set of structural reforms in the making, though observers would be keen on knowing the details of what is being planned. In its first term in power, the Modi government was seen to have gone on the defensive on market reforms, possibly in response to Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi’s “suit-boot ki sarkar" jibe in 2015. As the Bharatiya Janata Party slowly gains numerical superiority in the Rajya Sabha, the government will find it easier to institute changes that turn the markets for land and labour more flexible, which could raise the trajectory of the economy’s growth and enhance prosperity across the country.

National defence remains high on the government’s list of priorities. In a significant military reform, Modi announced that India will have a chief of defence staff to helm all the three armed forces. This would help coordinate defence action in case of a war. The Prime Minister also touched upon several social matters in his 90-minute address, warning the country of over-population and urging some shifts in behaviour. What he had to say about business in particular and the economy in general, though, was what investors were waiting to hear. These issues are often assumed to concern only the well off. But an economic revival should matter to everyone.

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Published: 15 Aug 2019, 10:00 PM IST
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