WEF India: What do businesses want?

Narendra Modi Image copyright AFP
Image caption India's business community has been upbeat since Narendra Modi's election victory

The World Economic Forum in Davos is a glitzy affair - prime ministers and chief executives rubbing shoulders with campaigning film and rock stars in the snow-covered Swiss ski town.

The World Economic Forum in Delhi promises to be a little less lively.

The India event has some well-known names from the country's business and political scene among the 700 participants at one of the capital's swishest hotels, the Taj Palace. Plenty of international firms and governments are represented too.

But nobody is expecting an appearance from Bono.

WEF India comes at a time of renewed interest in the nation, about six months since the landslide election victory of the BJP, led by Narendra Modi (who is also not scheduled to attend).

Since then, the country's business community has been upbeat. Any journalist will tell you it is hard to find anyone in industry with a vaguely critical word to say about the new leader - at least publicly.

'Bold decisions needed'

That optimism has been partly reinforced by recent economic data - especially sharply falling inflation and rising economic growth after three consecutive years of slowing GDP.

What we are seeing though after a honeymoon period is, if not frustration, then an increasingly urgent message that the government needs more concrete steps.

"India's progress depends fundamentally on the ability of its leaders to take the bold decisions necessary to transform the country's economy and society," says Viraj Mehta, WEF's India and South Asia director.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Help making it easier for infrastructure projects to go ahead would encourage investment in India

Meanwhile, a report by consultants Deloitte ahead of the conference underlined that government reforms needed to take shape if the country was going to be more prosperous.

"To fully realise its potential, India must continue to invest in infrastructure, particularly transport networks and power systems, as well as work to enhance the employability of its working population," says Gary Coleman, Deloitte's global managing director for industries. "And of course, all this requires effective implementation."

Investment promises

Like most WEF conferences, this one has an ambitious-sounding theme and one that reflects the change in power: Redefining Public-Private Co-operation for a New Beginning.

What many of the delegates in Delhi are really looking for now though are specifics, not rhetoric.

"Business leaders are keen to engage with the government and see how it plans to restart the investment cycle, revive demand and convert the first signs of revival into a full-fledged recovery," says Chandrajit Banerjee, director-general of the Confederation of Indian Industry.

So far the big promises of investment into India have accompanied Mr Modi's overseas visits. These trips, particularly to China and Japan have drawn pledges of tens of billions of dollars of investment especially in infrastructure.

In that same period, there have been no high-profile examples of investment pouring into the country. Instead, firms are adopting a wait-and-see approach.

Initiatives, including a much-lauded "Make in India" campaign to boost manufacturing, send signals of intent.

But solid plans on overhauling subsidies, tackling corruption and really making it easier to build infrastructure are likely to be more encouraging to businesses considering putting their faith back in India.

As the chief executive of KPMG India, Richard Rekhy, tweeted on Sunday: "The #IndiaEconomicSummit is a good place to make some major announcements on reforms; the world is watching and we need to act."

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