By Vijay Darda | 05-10-2015
The blips about his habit of making comments on domestic political issues apart, prime minister Narendra Modi is unquestionably the most hard working person on his foreign trips. He sets himself a punishing schedule and relentlessly pursues his agenda of promoting India as an attractive investment destination. He has emerged as an articulate spokesperson for India, and there is buzz around his persona. When it makes to the Indian diaspora abroad, he certainly woos them with panache, and the ”Modi, Modi” chants from the gatherings at his rock star like shows are an eloquent testimony to the wonders that he does for their morale. For people who have left their homeland to seek a better life, such a connect with the prime minister of their birthplace has a special charm. Nothing comes closer to that feeling of satisfaction.
In the months that he has been in office, Modi has travelled far and wide. Beginning from Bhutan that was his first stop, he has been to Brazil, Nepal, Japan, United States of America, Myanmar, Australia, Fiji, Seychelles, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Singapore, France, Germany, Canada, China, Mongolia, South Korea, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, UAE and Ireland. He has visited the United Nations, and been to USA and Nepal twice, besides this he has hosted heads of state for several other countries. In the process, he has not hesitated from breaking new grounds in terms of diplomatic overtures by extending his hand of friendship to long standing rivals like China and Mongolia.
But his larger effort has been to promote Brand India and position it as the most attractive place to do business. There is a lot of business logic to the idea. In these times of slack in the global economy, bolstered by a strong domestic demand base, India remains an ideal market for the seller of any commodity. From the low cost products from the Chinese manufacturing hub to the high cost Apple brand smart phones, the Indian market offers scope to anyone with a viable product at a price that offers value for money. As a lot of international brands have learned to their advantage, it pays to be in India.
However, in real life every story has different shades. To this attractive story of India as an attractive investment destination, there is the grey side of the difficulties in doing business with India. The latest ranking on the ease of doing business shows that India has slipped two points and it now ranks 142 in the World Bank’s 2015 report on 189 countries. Surely, this is not something that speaks well for the country and explains as to why the investments are sluggish. Someone as knowledgeable and experienced as the Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan has voiced the need for backing up Modi’s visits abroad with action on the ground to reinforce the good impression he is creating.
Now quite clearly this has to be done by all the stakeholders but then the primary responsibility rests with prime minister Modi and him alone. He is the one to set the tone for the change that needs to be brought about to make things happen and ensure that the investors who wish to come in are more welcome. It needs to be pointed that everyone who comes to India, does anticipate some difficulties, but the problem arises when these go beyond their expectations. The bureaucratic frustrations, the issues related to security and law and order, infrastructural problems are only the tip of the iceberg. The lay of the land is familiar to prime minister Modi and the need for him to step in effectively with measures to change the entire gamut of things cannot be over-emphasised. Indeed, this expectation is at the heart of the massive mandate in his favour. He successfully marketed himself as the man with the 56 inch chest ( having the courage that is needed) to make these changes.
There is one area in which a determined push will transform the entire socio-economic landscape of the country- this is tourism where we rank a lowly 52nd behind our peers like China, Brazil, and Russia who occupy the 17th, 28th and 42 position in a table that is headed by Spain with France, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Italy among the top ten. It has to be pointed that is not the quality of tourist destinations that places these countries ahead of us. Our soft power is globally acknowledged and the combo of our cultural diversity and rich traditions offers a charmed attraction that is almost irresistible. However, it is the lack of infrastructure and the inability to translate the high sounding motto of ” Athithi Devo Bhav” that is depriving us of our rightful share of tourist traffic.
It is well known that tourists want to come to India for religious purposes ( Buddhists from affluent Japan being a major segment), for heritage sites like Taj Mahal, the lure of Rajasthan and other factors but are simply put off by the lack of basic infrastructure and a rock solid assurance about safety and security. India’s ranking on a few tourism related parameters is quite instructive in this respect on tourism-specific infrastructure we ranked 109th, and 106th on health and hygiene and still lower 114th on Information, Communications and Technology readiness. Still, it is the third largest foreign exchange earner for us and the problem areas have been identified for us by international survey agencies.
With the right kind of correctives in the specific areas, this sector can take off. It is almost axiomatic that an improvement in the facilities would also add to the number of domestic tourists as more and more citizens would be encouraged to travel to these destinations. The other spin off is the employment generation capacity of this sector and it is estimated that for every million dollar of investment, there are at least 78 jobs created. In this era of jobless growth this is a boon. The development of the tourism related infrastructure of course has the usual economic spin offs that are associated with any other business project. Having almost travelled every significant country on the globe, Modi is an experienced traveller and he should do all that is required to make travel into India more comfortable and memorable.
Before I conclude…
At end of the monsoon this year, it has emerged that this has been the ‘driest’ year since 2009 with an overall deficit of 14 percent but with 39% of the country’s area receiving deficient rainfall, 55% getting normal rainfall and 6% having excess rainfall. The impact of this monsoon failure in all its dimensions would be felt over the course of the next few months, and it would be the responsibility of all concerned to minimize it. The only thing that can be said with certainty is that there has been an adequate warning of the grave crisis that looms ahead and this does not leave anyone with any alibi when the time comes for this failure to exact its price.