What They Said at CII

The timing of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) session on the eve of an election may have ushered a new era as far is acknowledging the role of business and commerce in Indian politics is concerned. Never before had such a jamboree of political leaders taken place in which they were expected to lay out their economic agendas before the captains of industry. Politicians have realised over the years that election manifestos have become a joke and that the influence of business houses is paramount. A hung parliament stares at the politicians and they look forward for the corporate world to bail them out.

The BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee was impressive when he spoke at CII, but the other leaders were clearly uncomfortable in talking brass tacks before businessmen. It was clever of Vajpayee to have harped on the swadeshi plank, defined and adapted for the ears of Indian tycoons. At a time when lots of Indian business houses are succumbing to the onslaught of multinationals, they have found solace in the swadeshi slogan. What is clear is that while former Finance Minister Monmohan Singh has shouted himself hoarse in calling for liberalisation, the large pro-protection lobby of business houses has not gone away. And it is this lobby within the CII, breaking decorum to speak out last month, which might define how the reform process in India is going to unfold.

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Himal Southasian