Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s plain speak at the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) meeting in Delhi on Thursday was no flash of Socialist thought. He has been troubled lately by conspicuous consumption and its potential to breed a relative sense of poverty among the millions on the margins.
“The message isn’t for the industry alone; it’s for the entire class of urban and rural rich who have been engaging in conspicuous consumption,” explained a source in the Prime Minister’s Office. The theme of the conference, ‘Inclusive growth: challenges for corporate India,’ was tailor-suited to remind the captains of industry of their social responsibility.
A source privy to the PM’s thinking said the speech should be read in conjunction with the robust nine per cent economic growth and improvement in the outlook for Indian business, notably the manufacturing sector. “He feels it’s time the corporate sector focused on its social role,” he said.
The thoughts Singh shared with corporate leaders and the questions he bounced off them were also the subject of discussion at a meeting he recently presided on climate change and global warning. He felt the country could not afford the western lifestyle. Its salvation was in conservation of resources and the simplicity preached by the Mahatma.
In fact, the economist--politician has been sharing with some of his close aides his impressions of the contemporary Indian scene in the context of Raj Mohan Gandhi’s latest book, Mohandas: A True Story of a Man, His People and an Empire. Corruption, conspicuous consumption and the concomitant page three culture, the PM feels, are recipes for social unrest.
On the political side, however, his ten-point social charter for the industry seems rooted in his government’s anxiety to check price rise and take the benefits of reforms to the common people. His notion of corporate social responsibility draws inspiration from Gandhi’s “trusteeship” philosophy based on the idea that the wealthy had an obligation to the society and to nature.
To SD Muni, a former ambassador and professor of international studies, the points the PM flagged appeared a “course correction on too much of Montek-type globalisation swing.” Muni’s allusion was to Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia. He said the systems advocated by the PM were attributes of mature capitalist economies: “The UPA wants to convey that its economic growth is intended to be more inclusive than the NDA’s India Shining.”
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