How India’s top business leaders responded to PM Modi’s historic speech in Davos


World Economic Forum saw India Inc exhibiting strength of Indian industry. Here is how stalwarts of Indian industry responded to PM Modi’s speech at the WEF

Aroon Purie, Editor-in-Chief, India Today Group

Rahul Kanwal, Managing Editor, TVTN: What was the one key takeaway for you at the inaugural plenary in Davos?

Aroon Purie, Editor-in-Chief, India Today Group: It’s a great honour for India to open the plenary session. The presence of India and the buzz about India is fantastic at this conference. I think we should be all proud of the image which our prime minister has created in the world now. As far as his speech was concerned, I think he took the high moral ground that India is a country of values, of leadership in the world of a different kind than what is being presented by other countries. They don’t covet anybody’s territory. They want to live by international rules. He also made a very valid point of India’s representation in international bodies, which I think is a very valid claim. So the world has changed and I think he presented that.

RK: Mr Purie, you have been coming to Davos for many years. How have you seen the perception around India changed this time?

Aroon Purie: India’s been ignored for many years. Although we’ve had large Indian delegations, but the profile of India as such in Davos has not been all that great. I have seen this as the peak. It’s never been like this. There was a moment earlier, some years back, when there was an India week, etc. That was more of the IT part of India which was presented. But this, I think, is a much larger canvas of India, which has been presented. I think that’s terrific for India.

RK: And the other question, Mr Purie, is about a lot of businessmen of Indian origin, who made it really big abroad. Over the last few years, they have been very circumspect about investing in the India story. You’ve been speaking to some of them. Do you think their view is changing — they will put serious capital, investment into the India story again?

Aroon Purie: I think it has. All the big houses there, especially in the commodity trade, resources, energy etc. You see a change where they are looking at India in a far more positive manner. They are looking at a government which is far more pro-active, which is willing to solve their problem. Bureaucracy is bureaucracy. Somebody has to cut through it. And I think the politicians are playing their role in trying to facilitate these businessmen to make big investments here.

RK: Mr Purie, we have seen this happen in stock-market crashes in the past where you’ve got investors suddenly seeing the markets boom. They get excited about the India story, come in when the markets are already at their highs.

Aroon Purie: I think the whole thing is about the Indian economy picking up. There seem to be signs of the Indian economy picking up. That the valuations, the figures which the companies will come out with their profits. In the end, it has to be profits. It can’t be just expectations, right? I think those probably will be met. So, the overvaluation which you may be seeing now will be corrected.

Uday Kotak, MD, Kotak Mahindra Bank

RK: Mr Uday Kotak, globalization, protectionism and climate change are hot button issues at the WEF. And the prime minister tick-marked all the right boxes here at Davos.

Uday Kotak, MD, Kotak Mahindra Bank: I think a lot has been said on terrorism, a fair amount has been said on climate change. I was been particularly enthused by his positioning on protectionism and saying that we are making the world narrow by going for protectionism. And it is here that India will stand out. India will be exclusive, India will be open. At the same time, the prime minister gave a clear hint that India needs to do what it has to do and will do what it has to do. A certain sense of confidence that India knows how to manage itself.

RK: Is this been seen as bravado? How seriously is the prime minister and India been taken when they stake claim to global economic leadership?

Uday Kotak: I think at this stage he’s taken leadership in the whole area of what is World Economic Forum. It’s about the world environment, which is climate, anti-terrorism that is inclusiveness, you know one society and globalization, anti-protection. The buttons he has hit are appropriate buttons for the World Economic Forum.

RK: Mr Kotak, there are two parts to this. One, what the prime minister is saying. Second, what the world think of what we are saying. Do you believe the dinner yesterday, the frank discussion with the global business leaders talking and the prime minister responding, will lead to extra investment coming into India?

Uday Kotak: A lot of investment is already coming into India. And I think India will continue to have global interest in terms of investment. India is one of the favourite destinations in the world. But I look at the prime minister’s speech today as a speech of a statesman and not a salesman.

RK: That’s very interesting. One of the concerns the WEF, and some people in the government also, had that it shouldn’t be too much about salesman Modi talking about what he has done. He’s got a bigger picture at play here.

Uday Kotak: And that’s what exactly we saw. It’s also in a way saying India is ready for bigger things and India is ready to take the role and the mantle of a more sophisticated and responsible leader in a fractured world.

RK: Mr Kotak, there was a report that came out from the IMF, which says India will grow at 7.4 next year and 7.9 in the year to come. Do you believe that the negative effects of demonetization and the slight slippage because of the introduction of the GST are now behind us? Is this an economy that’s now bouncing back?

Uday Kotak: I think the GDP story is improving. We are seeing that clearly in terms of pickup on the loan growth. The slowdown which we saw post-demonetization and post-GST is steadily improving. And I actually believe in a 7 percent plus growth in 2018-19.

RK: Mr Kotak, there seems to be, for global investors, a very big fact that you just don’t want to spend time with the Indian prime minister but someone whose seen to be doing well by his own people.

Uday Kotak: If you look at markets. Markets have a great way of saying the story. Markets are saying that the NDA government is the base case in 2019.

RK: But the markets could also be overvalued. Is this another big bubble? What we have seen is data, which says that people are pulling money out of their fixed deposits, their investment plans and pumping this into the markets.

Uday Kotak: Rahul, there are two separate things. One is the base case of who’s the political leadership. On that, it’s pretty clear. On the market side, it’s a separate issue. Post demonetisation and GST, you have seen a significant shift of household savings from land and jewellery to financial assets.

RK: You think it’s a structural change?

Uday Kotak: A lot of first-time savers have come into financial assets. And they have come into mutual funds, into insurance policies like ULIPs. What we have to do is to nurture them and ensure that markets don’t go out of control.

RK: Is this sustainable, a structural change or is this a bubble? There may be a correction. But will there be a deep correction or do you believe this is structural change into the future?

Uday Kotak: A fundamental structural change on financial savings. But like in everything else, excesses create their problems. And if at all if there’s one area where I am worried about risks, it’s small and mid caps. That’s where one has to watch

Rajnish Kumar, Chairman, SBI

RK: Do you (the SBI chairman) believe when the prime minister talks of global economic leadership that India has the economic might to be actually taken seriously at the a forum like WEF?

Rajnish Kumar, SBI Chairman: Definitely, it was a speech where I could perceive that a global leader was speaking more than an Indian prime minister. And the messaging was right. These three issues he picked up, are very, very contemporary and relevant issues. And India’s position as a spiritual leader has always been acknowledged across the centuries. So drawing on that, and that will be guiding India’s position on various subjects which affect each and every country on earth. That way the positioning was perfect. About whether India is ready for that leadership or not, in today’s time nobody can afford to ignore India. So he’s speaking for 1.3 billion people. The economy has reached a takeoff stage in the last couple of years.

Rajan Bharti Mittal, Managing Director, Bharti Enterprises

RK: We had Xi Jinping lead WEF last year, It was china’s big party, does this compared, you believe India has reached an economic position where it can even begin to think, okay let’s make a comparison?

Rajan Bharti Mittal, MD, Bharti Mittal Enterprises: I think, I have to say what Aroon said, it’s a great honour for India after 20 years the Prime Minister is coming here. And there also one must recognize that the Prime Minister came here with complete majority after 30 years, so, he has the will, he has the mandate behind it, and people are recognizing that position. Having said that it’s not a comparison, I think it is India’s turn. Clearly, when the world is going inward, India is moving towards globalisation. Probably, today its the only country open to business like never before. Each and every sector you pick up incliding mine, I can see that huge investments can come into India from all sectors. So, clearly he has pitched us in a position to say, we are good for business, we are ready for business. He has invited businessmen, also taken I would say a larger role to address issues which are of social importance like climate change, terrorism which affects everybody, something that people never saw till the time they got hit by it. I’m glad he has raised these questions on a platform like this.

Ajay Singh (CEO, SpiceJet)

RK: Gentleman standing next to me worked on Narendra Modi’s communications before he bought SpiceJet, You have also been involved in shaping the narrative and deciding what kind of inputs go into this, then in terms of the message the PM has sent, how powerful was it in your view and how well has it gone down?

AJAY SINGH, CEO, SPICEJET: I think it was an incredibly powerful message. You know to use a cricket analogy, this was team India’s moment at Davos and the captain of India’s team hit not one 6 but many sixes today. He did an incredible job, I think he reminded the world what an old country this was, what old wisdom it has and how that old wisdom can actually be applied to solve….(audio not clear get’s stuck here) So absolutely incredible in the way he spoke about big data, artificial intelligence, then digital India and it was just an incredible juxtaposition of old India and New India at the same time. So, there is a void which has been left behind with Americans withdrawing from global leadership and I think what he was presenting was an alternative to the Chinese leadership of the world. It was clearly an attempt at positioning India at it’s rightful place of being a kinder, gentler nation ready to lead the world in a kinder, gentler way.

RK to Rajan Bharti Mittal: Here, a PM, who has reached out to various Indian Conglomerates talking about the work they are doing in the social sector, So here’s a PM who is very much like a CEO so he has got his key industries and he not just knows their names but knows exactly what they are doing and he’s marking some outward special appreciation as well..

Rajan Bharti Mittal: Well, as I said, people may think these are very small issues, but for a country like India they are big issues., Hygiene, Swachhta, these are great issues. It affects healthcare, education, so he’s really been able to put this whole necklace around these smaller issues to make them known, to make them more aware for the corporates to step in and say that while economics is on one side we also need to take care of the national cause. And there’s so much disparity, which is there, I think he has made known to people who are on this side and to the world, that India will work on both the issues, be economically strong as well as be socially responsible.

RK to Ajay Singh: While there are lots of positives in the India story, one key concern which came out was inequality, is that India lags even China and Pakistan. So the Prime Minister speaks of Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas, but when you look at data, that’s been put out at this WEF, it doesn’t necessarily translate into action.

Ajay Singh: Yes, but we are getting there. The intention is to get there and I think what the PM said today, he spoke of inclusive growth and how important India’s culture made it for us to be speaking of inclusive growth. He spoke of the world being one family, he spoke of Rabindranath Tagore’s advocating the tearing down of walls of prejudice; I think it was absolutely brilliant. You can not expect in 3 and a half years to achieve much more than what this govt has already achieved. We have spoken about just the incredible work which has been done on GST, Demonetisation, on creating the Bankruptcy law, on building more roads than we ever have built, electrifying more villages than we have ever done, on building more rail tracks, ease of doing business rankings going up 42 points. I think there has been incredible achievement for a short period of 3 and a half years and we will get there on the inclusion bit as well.

RK to Rajan Bharti Mittal: This question has been asked of Bharti often that when you felt the Indian story was wavering or there were bigger opportunities abroad you went and invested a lot of money. We heard recently that some of it didn’t go down well. Are Indian companies now going to start saying good things about the PM but actually putting their money where their mouth is?

Rajan Bharti Mittal: I’m rather certain that Indian money will start coming in. It has already started coming in, eventually the foreign investors will also look at the Indian corporate houses because if the Indian corporate houses don’t invest, you don’t expect much of the foreign investment coming in. So clearly, there’s always a time, there’s always a place, I think this is India’s moment. If we are growing at 7 or 7 and half percent plus, in the coming few years you will see much more investment coming in from the Indian Corporate Houses.

RK to Ajay Singh: The fact that you have got a PM who is electorally successful , who’s popularity being validated in election after election, PM mentioned this in his speech and that matters a lot because a lot of these businessmen say that we don’t want to be talking to a business leader who may or may not be in office in 6 months from now..

Ajay Singh: No, absolutely, in PM Modi, I think the world knows that they are talking to a leader who is not only there with a majority, but who is probably likely to be there for the next 5-6 years. So that gives tremendous credibility to a leader of a democratic country.