Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured world business leaders on Friday that governance reform was a top priority for him, and that he remained committed to transparency and cutting red-tape.
The business leaders, in turn, told him in a series of meetings, that he was on the right track, though he needed to speed up the pace of change.
The Prime Minister met Wall Street bosses in the morning, media barons in the afternoon and hosted 42 Fortune 500 CEOs at a dinner on his first day of business on this US trip.
“Reform in governance is my No 1 priority. We are for simplified procedures, speedy decision making, transparency and accountability,” Modi told his dinner guests, collectively worth US$ 4.5 trillion.
They included Lockheed Martin’s Marillyn Hewson, Ford’s Mark Fields, IBM’s Ginni Rometty and Pepsi’s Indra Nooyi.
At an earlier roundtable with media and entertainment barons, Modi said his government was committed to protecting IPR (intellectual property rights), a big concern for some US businesses, saying “it’s essential to fostering creativity”.
The 65-year-old BJP leader led his party to a landmark victory in last year’s general elections on a promise to revive the economy but experts have raised concerns recently about the flagging pace of reforms hobbling growth, amid an Opposition-sponsored logjam in Parliament.
The government managed to pull the country out of the worst economic slump in 25 years but time-consuming procedures and outdated laws remain a concern, with India placed 142nd among 189 countries in a World Bank ranking of countries on ease of doing business.
Modi has said he will change this and much else about the business climate in India. And that’s the message he delivered at these meetings, and found ready appreciation.
“By and large the mood was very upbeat,” foreign ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup told reporters, “there was general consensus the PM is affecting change in India.”
The only demand from the business leaders was, Swarup added, “Please make that change faster”.
And Modi took that on board. “The PM assured them he was committed; fundamentally he believes in deregulation, fundamentally he believes the government should allow the private sector space to develop.”
The PM said foreign direct investment fell all over the world but increased by 40% in India. “This reflects confidence in the Indian economy,” he said.
His guests, who Indian officials said had not sobered down on India despite reports of disappointments, went back charmed, and doubly encouraged.
“He is so humble,” gushed Dinesh Paliwal of Harman Industries. “In the opening he said look I know what I know, and I also know what I don’t know.”
Paliwal said he was skeptical about the PM last year. “Lots of people have tried (reforms). Will he fail? Will he succeed? He has shown in this difficult environment, he is able to navigate.”
“Most of the people in the room left very energised.”
The PM set the ball rolling with a meeting with Wall Street bosses first thing in the morning — and that included Jamie Dimon of financial giant JP Morgan and Henry Kravis of private-equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts.
A roundtable with media leaders followed, which included News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch and his son James Murdoch, who noted 40% of the world’s entertainment business was in the room.
That was followed by one-one-one meetings with MasterCard’s Ajay Banga, who is also the outgoing chairman of the US-India Business Council, and Lockheed Martin’s Hewson.
And then the Fortune 500 dinner, the grand finale.