The businessmen friends of PM Modi

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi with the business leaders and captains of industry, for a discussion on issues such as economic growth, infrastructure development, policy initiatives, investment, innovation and job creation, in Mumbai on June 26, 2018.

The prime minister does not miss an opportunity to vehemently support his own point of view. The latest was his open defence for industrialists and businessmen, which attracted the Opposition’s ire.

Despite Narendra Modi led government receiving flak after fugitives like Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Choksi fled the country, its staunch support for the business community has taken even the opposition by surprise. A recent investment meet provided the right venue for the prime minister to assert that there is nothing wrong in siding with businessmen. Obviously its timing was well chosen and calculated in build up to the 2019 general election. No opposition party could afford to say a word against the inflow of investment announced at the meet.

The launch of over 80 investment projects worth 60,000 crore and the presence of industrialists such as Kumar Mangalam Birla and the Gautam Adani, explained that Modi meant business. Ostensibly, PM Modi turned a business event into a political opportunity to riposte Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s accusation that his policies helped his capitalist friends. In one shot, he tried to dismiss the Congress’ allegation that the Rafale deal with France was non-transparent and would benefit one industrialist.

The economy has always been central to any political system and Modi government’s support to industry is welcome.  Indeed, Prime Minister Narendra Modi went against the accepted political thought of always chiding businessmen and traders and just singing beans in praise of farmers, dalits and women being the vote bank politics.

Addressing a gathering of industrialists, Modi claimed that like labourers, farmers and bankers, businessmen were key to development. Referring to Mahatma Gandhi, who was publicly associated with big Indian industrialists, he said, “When one’s conscience is clear and intention is noble, you don’t get tainted by standing with anybody.”

With this, the spotlight is on how India perceives big businessmen because the scams driven by crony capitalism paint big businessmen as morally corrupt and untouchable. This is why it has been impossible for political leaders and political parties to be both pro-poor and pro-business. A psychosis has been created in public minds and perception that all businessmen were corrupt. There is not enough trust in the private sector because of scams and unethical practices attached with big businessmen in the past. The question is will Modi’s siding with big businessmen prove to be a gamble worth the risk? Will it change the perception how politics thinks about India Inc? Of course the talks of crony capitalism had been chosen by Congress President Rahul Gandhi on umpteenth occasions to target Modi and the NDA government at the Centre.

With the Opposition often accusing Modi government of being a “suit-boot ki sarkaar” the stand taken by the Prime Minister in favour of  businessmen was well thought of. He said businessmen and industrialists played a crucial a role in nation development as a labourer, a farmer or an artisan. It was wrong to call them “chor-lutere (thieves)”, he added.

Pointing to former Rajya Sabha MP Amar Singh, who was among the guests, Modi said Singh would know all about it “Public mein milna nahin, parde ke peeche sab kuchch karna hai. Woh dartey rahtey hain . Modi said that those looking for issues to criticise him should note that whatever mistake they find dates back to 70 years ago not from his four years. “I have only four years in my account and you had 70 years.”

Referring to the ceremony as “a record-breaking ceremony instead of a ground-breaking ceremony”, the PM Modi said India had become the world’s second largest producer of cellphones, and that UP was leading this “manufacturing revolution.”

Modi attacked Rahul Gandhi for allegedly denigrating Indian businessmen, seeking to turn on its head the entire argument of the Congress party, which has been claiming that not everything is above board on the recent purchase of Rafale aircraft from France. Speaking at the launch of various development projects, Modi said industrialists too, like labourers, farmers and bankers, play an important role in nation-building and that it was wrong to hold all of them morally deficient.  “Should we insult them? Should we call them thieves and burglars?,” he said, before adding, “But yes, one indulges in wrongdoing, he either has to flee the country or has to spend his life inside a jail.”

In a veiled attack on the Congress, the principal opposition party, Modi said he was not among those who feared standing beside industrialists. “When one’s conscience is clear and intention is noble, you don’t get tainted by standing with anybody. Those people have such fears who don’t want to meet in public but will do everything behind the scene,” he said.

The Congress party was quick to respond. “Congress is not against industrialists or capitalists. But it is against crony capitalists. The suit boot ki sarkaar reflects crony capitalism. PM gave a long speech on development. But the question is that if development is happening in the country then why is economy in a poor state and why are farmers selling their produce below MSP (minimum support price)?” Manish Tewari, former Union minister and Congress spokesperson told reporters.

The PM’s response is significant as it comes in the backdrop of Congress party trying to link the National Democratic Alliance to big businessmen. In early 2015, Gandhi had alleged that Modi was leading a suit boot ki sarkaar (pro-rich government). To be sure, the NDA has on several occasions clarified that its government favoured businessmen as they are a key economic agent. Indeed Prime Minister Narendra Modi has very articulately taken the battle to the opposition camp on an issue where earlier he was finding himself and his government on the defensive. The event was also attended by industry bigwigs such as Kumar Mangalam Birla, chairman of the Aditya Birla group; Gautam Adani, chairman of the Adani group; Subhash Chandra, chairman of the Essel group and a Rajya Sabha MP; and Sanjeev Puri, MD, ITC. Top executives of business houses like Walmart were also present.