Modi’s speech must be about more than just India’s readiness for business
Indian officials at the Word Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos are likely to focus on the introduction of the GST, the improved ranking in ease of doing business and the new FDI rules to showcase India’s readiness for business. This is their routine job and they have been doing it for years at Davos. This year, the significance of the Forum for New Delhi has increased as PM Modi himself has decided to lead 100-plus strong Indian contingent. The last Indian PM to visit Davos was H D Deve Gowda in 1997.
To be more effective, the PM’s focus in the inaugural keynote speech should be about much more than just showcasing India’s readiness for business. This is job best left to ministers and bureaucrats. He must outline India’s growing role in the evolving economic and security architectures in Asia and beyond. He has to outline Indian approach to ‘creating a shared future in a fractured world’, the theme of this years’ forum.
Instead of focussing too much on terrorism, he can highlight India’s plans for shared prosperity through connectivity in South Asia, Eurasia and Africa. Apart from the Indian contribution to global growth, a specific focus can also be made on Indian developmental activities abroad with specific numbers. Despite relatively low levels of development, Indian contributions to SDGs and climate change could also be emphasised.
Although a record number of heads of state, government and international organisations are participating, speakers who will be keenly watched are Donald Trump, Narendra Modi and Emmanuel Macron. Last year, president Xi Jinping in his keynote speech at Davos highlighted the Chinese approach to global economy in the context of globalisation. He championed the cause of globalisation and asserted that integration is a historical trend, but globalisation has to be inclusive and sustainable. After highlighting an inadequate global economic governance, Xi finished his speech by outlining the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. The world’s political and business leaders will be expecting an Indian vision of the future from Modi. They would expect much more than growth numbers, rankings and some changes in FDI rules.
Since Modi is also meeting the Swiss president, the issue of the India-European Free Trade Association Agreement (EFTA) negotiations are likely to come up. Although never an EU member, Switzerland is fully integrated with the EU through more than 100 bilateral agreements including an FTA. So a deadlock at the India-EU FTA also has a direct bearing on India-EFTA trade pact negotiations. Since no major trade agreement has been signed by the Modi government in the last three years, New Delhi also has to clarify its cautious position on future FTAs. As a large number of bilateral investment agreements have been terminated by India, Modi will have to reassure European leaders of his government’s investment plans.
The story of India’s growth and potential has already been told many times at Davos. Modi’s plan to tackle jobless growth, rising inequality as well as regional peace and stability will be no less important for the high-powered delegates at Davos.
Gulshan Sachdeva is Jean Monnet chair at the School of International Studies, JNU
The views expressed are personal