Prime Minister Modi, during his trip to the US in 2015, met CEOs of companies with a combined worth of 4.5 trillion USD, more than twice India's GDP. The main takeaway from the trip was that India needed to work on infrastructure and ease-of-doing-business issues and laws that corporate find too restrictive. Many expressed their worry about Internet censorship and Government snooping, some about corruption and the bureaucrat-politician nexus and others about India's business laws.
There are however, other points that no CEO or head of state will ever say in public or private... When we wish to invite billions of US dollars' worth of investment to India, we have to first of all, project the image of a scientifically driven society driven by the rule of law and a Government committed to protecting investment and business in all their dimensions.
Let us for a moment imagine ourselves as CEOs of a multi-billion dollar enterprises in the US, seeking a cost arbitrage in a nation famed for its engineers, doctors and hard working people – all of it, evidence that is available within the large Indian diaspora in the US. But surely, that knowledge itself, cannot be the only reason I will pump in my billions. Before I do so, I will begin reading up, I will subscribe to news of that country, to see if I'm investing in a nation that has a stable, polite society and a political dispensation that is not at odds with itself and has a track record of enabling international business.
1. Ensure we are a secular polity, not constantly driven by a majoritarian itch to 'teach a lesson' to the minorities. An unstable social environment, constantly in social strife over manufactured issues, is not conducive to foreign investment.
2. Respect the rights of the individual. There are no collective rights. All rights belong exclusively to the individual. Everyone's rights are circumscribed only where another's nose begins. I have the right to eat cow dung or meat or bitter gourds. No one has the right to curtail my right to eat anything, least of all the State.
3. Respect society and the law, for women, and swift legal retaliation against those who infringe those laws. Only then will liberal societies invest in India. We must understand that those societies are well-to-do because they are liberal, not liberal because they are well-to-do.
4. We have to be seen as a society that runs by and respects the rule of law. From seat-belts to swift retaliation against the highest, even in the ruling dispensation, every aspect of our lives should be seen to be driven by the rule of law. And we certainly cannot be seen as a nation where judges can be bribed, cajoled, threatened or otherwise compromised, by the State or its citizens.
5. Address the violence of the state against its citizens. The Indian State is in a permanent adversarial position vis-à-vis its citizens. Even the language of a common communication from any office of the state, is replete with language that is inimical to polite social discourse ¬ it is threatening and talks down at the citizen, in a throwback to the colonial Raj.
6. Completely cease political interference of the State, in education and culture. We cannot be seen to promote the lack of education as a badge of honour! Educational qualification is a respectable achievement, in civilised societies. It garners respect and admiration. Nations with money to invest, invariably belong to societies with a deep respect for education. We cannot be seen to hold sneering contempt for education and the educated.
7. Discourage sneeringly abusive official public discourse, aimed at pulling down every worthwhile achievement that our nation has made in the past, only because it was made by an ideologically different dispensation. A Prime Minister who obsessively inaugurates inconsequential things as road widening projects, in a bid to show how much is happening now, that wasn’t happening earlier, unwittingly exposes the nation’s polity as one that concentrates on image, rather than content and one that consider trivialities as important.
8. Run Government with the advice of think tanks and through public discourse. No single human can have the intellectual breadth, for answers to every issue. The perception that an entire Government, its law and order machinery and its judiciary runs at the behest of a single individual, cannot but take us into the same league as North Korea. No one invests in North Korea.
9. Do not tamper with constitutional posts. Instead, create more. Constitutional posts are created so that they remain insulated from the Government of the day. To browbeat them or erode their autonomy does us no credit. In fact it creates suspicion in the minds of investors. The Election Commissioner, the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Governor of the RBI, the Chief Information Commissioner and the Director General of the Central Statistical Organisation, should all be protected from Government interference. When the Greek economy tanked and the EU was working out the relief and reconstruction framework for Greece, an important item on the agenda was that the EU would appoint the chief bean counter of Greece, or the Head of its Central Statistical Organisation. Such is the importance attached to accurate official figures, by nations with investible wealth.
The CEOs had provisionally told us what they wanted, with the message, "Please continue with your development; we're watching..." Three years on, none of those CEOs have found India a fit destination to invest their money...
(Rajiv Tyagi is an erstwhile Indian Air Force MiG-21 fighter pilot and an opinion maker on social media. He tweets as @rajivtango)