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A band-aid for Brand India

It’s alarming that a country that was the cynosure of all eyes some two years ago is today languishing reputationally.

india Updated: Mar 28, 2012 23:48 IST
Suhel Seth

It’s alarming that a country that was the cynosure of all eyes some two years ago is today languishing reputationally. And India doesn’t even have a plan to stem the rot. What is Brand India all about today? It is about misgovernance; the politics of vendetta; endemic corruption; the dissatisfaction of the average citizen with those who rule him; the frustrations of a civil society that doesn’t have one core rallying point; about the kind of civilian violence that we haven’t seen in a long time. It’s about the courts running the country rather than the executive. And it is about the lack of both policy and process. Is this the India we wish to project?

Investors all over the world have only two desires: returns on their investment and transparency of justice. In both these silos, we have let investors down. It’s silly to believe that the introduction of retrospective taxation has anything to do with Vodafone. The arrogance of the executive is more evidenced in the manner it’s decided to bring in this law despite the Supreme Court throwing out the government’s petition twice. It is beyond that. Telenor has threatened to sue the Indian government only because the latter did not have a clear policy post that the Supreme Court, in judicial over-reach, quashed 122 licences. The Supreme Court can’t usurp the role of the executive. But when the executive is both weak and wimpish, what do we do? It’s not as if millions of investors want to rush to India with their money. We have to make India attractive and not as ugly as the government has done with alacrity.

My worry is that the men in government are so ensconced in their little gilded cages that they have no idea what people are really saying about the decline in the value-proposition that Brand India once held out. The government needs to do the following:

Examine the policies that it is perpetrating with an eye on the outside world: To hell with keeping Mamata Banerjee happy. Start thinking about investors too — and for this country as well.

An urgent look at better communication: From The Financial Times to The Economist, all have mourned India’s ‘demise’.

Engage with the Opposition: Today sane people like Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley are leading the Opposition in the two Houses. They are sensitive and patriotic, and will be willing to listen to a reasoned point of view.

A need to engage with industry on an equal plane while Indian industry, too, stops crawling when asked to walk: Our business leaders need to shed their obsequiousness and do some straight-talking to this government.

If we don’t get any of the above done, GDP growth notwithstanding, the reputational damage we would have caused Brand India will be immeasurable. So someone needs to wake up and pretty soon at that.

Suhel Seth is managing partner, Counselage. The views expressed by the author are personal.