Economic Reform Wish List

With the Communists jettisoned from the UPA, I hope that the limited time that the Congress have in this parliament is used to bring in legislation / initiatives that will make a huge difference to India truly becoming a global player. If anything, Indian people stand to benefit the most from these policy changes.

My wish list is as follows:

1. FDI for multi brand retailing – foreign investment into the retail sector can only be a good thing and will serve as an engine for employment.

2. Civil Aviation – allow foreign equity participation in domestic airlines, allow airlines to small airports, and create cargo hubs to assist exports.

3. Foreign Education Providers Bill – let foreign universities tie up and invest in setting up campuses in India. The country may  be producing huge numbers of graduates, but this would create extra capacity and improve research capabilities.

4. Insurance Sector – let foreign investors invest upto 49%. The extra 23% jump will serve as a catalyst and enable more access of capital for the insurance sector. But it takes one to know the difference between the many kinds of insurances there are to mitigate any imminent ambiguity.

Like I said, the UPA has a limited timeframe. Their general election is due in the first half of next year. Everyone knows that Manmohan Singh initiated the reform process in the early 90’s, he can leave a huge legacy if he delivers on substantive initiatives before the country goes to the polls.

25 crore for your vote!

With theatrics in the Indian parliament at an all time high today, I thought I should write a piece expressing my astonishment and anger.

I was shocked by the scenes in the Lok Sabha of opposition MPs waving bundles of cash at the Treasury benches. By doing so, confirming that the UPA did everything it could to buy votes for the confidence motion. I also want to make it clear that I don’t limit my comments just to the UPA, the simple fact is that they’re all at it.

The next time I have to sit through a speech from an Indian politican about the strength of democracy in India, I’ll be sure to remind them of their glorious day today. I hope their heads hang in shame.

You can’t be at the cusp of economic greatness and resort to such naked profligacy at the heart of the world’s largest democracy.

The future of economic reforms in India

Ever since the UPA came into office, they’ve blamed their inability to make progress on various fronts, down to their need to respect ‘coalition dharma’. Take economics and market liberalisation as an example, many influential people including a few Union Ministers have spoken of how the Communists held them back and blocked the reform agenda every step of the way.

Given that the Comrades from West Bengal have shot themselves in the foot by failing to topple the UPA as a result of their withdrawal, it would be fair to assume that all roadblocks (excuses) to market liberalisation have been cleared. No?

Knowing India, I’m sure the answer isn’t that straight forward. Yes, there are some pretty entrenched views on liberalisation in various elite circles in India, but when you go speak to the average joe bloggs, they’d welcome better quality, innovative services and lower prices, and for this reason, I believe that the UPA should go out there and make the case for reform more convincingly.

With electoral fortunes looking bleak for the UPA, what have they got to lose?

Outsourcing – Indian BPO firms & public sector procurement

I was invited to be a panellist for a Question Time session at the National Outsourcing Association’s ‘Global Sourcing’ conference that took place today. Around 100 leading practitioners and experts discussed the challenges that the outsourcing sector faces in today’s credit crunch era.

The conference was Chaired by a friend of mine – Mark Kobayashi Hillary – who can only be described as a ‘genius’, who’s authored several books on subjects related to technology outsourcing. As was evident in today’s conference, unlike other “experts”, Mark really does know what he’s talking about. Judging by the quality of the attendee list, he also possesses a fantastic book of contacts.

Back to the conference – which was a new experience for me – I found that everytime someone spoke about off-shoring destinations, everyone really meant ‘India’, despite the fact that companies from other emerging and established economies were present.

I had to field questions on a variety of subjects ranging from labour arbitrage to China but the one that’s still on my mind concerns the monopoly of an established group of vendors who continue to win business in the public sector despite their public failings. Unconventionally, Mark allowed me to ask a question to the audience asking why Indian firms simple don’t factor in public sector procurement. The likes of TCS, Infosys, Wipro are great at what they do, but why haven’t they made inroads into a space that is as lucrative?

I was involved in Government discussions around 2003 when the then Secretary of State famously made a speech saying “A job gained in India does not mean a job is lost in Britain”. Such statements helped in creating an atmosphere in which Indian firms could continue what they did best – unlike what was happening in the US. For this reason, I was surprised to hear that some members of the audience actually thought that the “negative atmosphere” in the UK resulted in procurement officers and decision makers taking a dim view of Indian firms.

Even if you give them the benefit of the doubt, that may have been the case five years ago, but this doesn’t explain why Indian firms (still) haven’t made inroads into the public sector.

I’m keen to learn your views on why companies which are increasingly toe-to-toe against the big boys in the global bazaar, still aren’t getting a look in. Is there a prejudice?, is it because of cultural missundertandings?, are they simply not up to the task? Please leave your comments as I’m interested in improving my understanding.

UK Outreach of the Communist Party Of India (Marxist)

At a time of political turmoil in India, where the Communists withdrew their support for the Congress led UPA Government in Delhi – which could lead to the rapid decline of the UPA and trigger a general election, we organised a private dinner for Comrade Biman Bose, Chairman of the Left Front, Member of the CPI (M) Politburo, and West Bengal Secretary of the CPI(M) with key political commentators and other opinion formers in London.

Regardless of what one makes of his party’s position on crucial subjects like the India – US Nuclear Deal, it was refreshing to hear him speak, and you had to appreciate the simple fact that he knew that he’d be in for a hard time on the evening but was nevertheless keen to engage. 

Despite the meeting being billed as ‘off-the-record’, he reversed this by agreeing to speak ‘on-the-record’, and since then has been at the centre of a story that’s found wings in which the journalist reports that the CPI(M) is willing to work with the BJP. A scoop!

Knowing political culture, both parties are sworn enemies but it doesn’t surprise me that they’re willing to speak with each other. One only has to look back at the toppling of the VP Singh Government in which both played a significant role in toppling that Government. For this reason, we shouldn’t be surprised.

With elections scheduled for early next year, If I were Sonia Gandhi, I’d be tempted to call an election sooner rather than later. Right now, they can make mischief by casting the BJP as the stumbling block to the country’s development by their objection to the nuclear deal. Later on, the effects of the slowing economy, double digit inflation etc are going to hit them for six. They’ve already lost key states and with several other key elections scheduled across India this year, which they’re guaranteed to lose – they don’t stand a hope in hell in returning back to office.

It was great to organise the Communist outreach in London. One of our guests even commented that it was good to hear Comrade Bose’s views at such an eventful time in Indian politics.

You can read the article printed thereafter here:

Indian Entrepreneurship – Lakshmi Mittal, the trailblazer

Was invited to the Emerging India awards yesterday evening with global icon Lakshmi Mittal in attendance and Trade Ministers from India and the UK -Kamal Nath and John Hutton playing second fiddle to an audience comprising some of India’s best SME’s, who had flown all the way to this prestigious awards ceremony that celebrates India’s talent in nurturing entrepreneurs.

Lakshmi Mittal, in his keynote address, spoke of his challenges when he was first starting out in the steel business. He recollected how the production of his first tonne of steel brought a profound sense of satisfaction that even his 110 million tonne Arcelor Mittal doesn’t match.

In his address, Kamal Nath highlighted: “…with the internet and a Fed-ex account, SME’s are able to compete with some of the world’s biggest companies.” As the promoter of a SME myself, I couldn’t agree more.

India’s banker – KV Kamath, CEO of ICICI Bank paid a tribute to Indian entrepreneurship and highlighted that the number of SME’s applying for an award had gone through the roof. With 20,000 applications made in the first year, this year, a staggering 300,000 Indian SME’s had applied in 10 categories!!

We’ve all heard key statistics that make Indians tick – for example, India has a population of over 1 billion, a middle class bigger than the entire population of America, or more engineering graduates than all European countries put together etc, but the one fact about India that knocks me off my feet everytime is that India is a young country. Simply put, there are more young people in India than China and almost everywhere else.

I’ve posted a blog previously in which I explain that certain traits are built into our DNA. I believe that entrepreneurship is exactly one of those traits that is built into Indian people. I can confidently predict that the trend of Indian entrepreneurs taking on and winning global boardroom battles, like Lakshmi Mittal, has only just begun.