Friday, May 14, 2010


Two issues have engaged pundits in recent days. The first one relates to the Supreme Court verdict that seems to have gone against Anil Ambani. Apart from furious number crunching, the verdict has also triggered a spate of stories on the role of lobbyists used by India Inc. to win battles and wars in North Block, South Block and many other blocks that stand as sinister reminders of a feudal and oligarchic India that refuses to fade away. I am not joking, but I think I now know more about Nira Radia than Nusli Wadia! And honest to goodness, I know some ambitious young television journalists who seem to be confused about who is who between the two!!!

The second debating point was triggered by the stubbornly persistent footin- the-mouth disease of Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh who trashed Indian policy and Indian policymakers while visiting China. This has led to a spate of stories on the strange ability of Indian ministers to say things which embarrasses the UPA government. Oh yes, I got to read dozens of delicious ‘recall’ stories about how the tweet about flying cattle class was the beginning of the end for Shashi Tharoor.

All the sound, fury, punditry and polemics generated by the two controversies have missed – as usual – missed the central issues that need to be addressed: What should be the relationship between India Inc. and the government? And, what should be India’s strategic posture when it comes to China? The stark reality is that there is a very depressingly familiar lack of vision and a long term plan on both counts. And both India Inc. and policymakers are equally guilty of this short-sightedness.

Not one account of the ‘lobbying wars’ unleashed by the Ambani brothers seems to acknowledge and accept the fact that the corporate sector and the government work very closely together in the US, Japan, South Korea, Brazil, Russia and China. That is a reality no amount of moral grandstanding by columnists will erase. You must be living in a fool’s paradise if you think Embraer, Lenovo, Huwaei, LG, Hyundai, Toyota, Honda and numerous others have become global powerhouses solely on the basis of entrepreneurial genius and without any active as well as clandestine ‘State’ support. In India too, the corporate sector and the government have a cosy relationship. Like elsewhere, policymakers in India oft en take decisions that brazenly favour the corporate sector – many might say unjustifiably. The problem is, India Inc. and the government are happy with short term gains in the form of tax breaks, cheap land and other freebies. Ask yourself this one troubling question – with the tens of billions of dollars of market capitalisation, how is it that no Indian business house has managed to become a serious player in the telecom equipment business? Or in the IT server business? Or in the serious infrastructure business where Big Boys play day and night? That brings us to the vexing issue of China. It is the magazine The Economist, which informed us that China does not allow wind energy player Suzlon to sell turbines in China because it wants to encourage ‘local’ growth. How many media outlets in India have reported this fact? I rest my case.


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