Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement about “plug and play” could not have come at a better time. This should lay at rest some of the fears and misgivings about protectionism and revival of socialism that the government’s emphasis on self-reliance had engendered. This should also, one hopes, drill some sense into the statist elements in the system that want try to practically control the economy and micromanage business—the elements we term as deep pink state.
Addressing the 95th annual plenary session of the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC) yesterday, he said, “This is the time to move the Indian economy from command and control to plug and play. This is not the time for conservative approach, but it is time for bold decisions and bold investments. It is time to set up a globally competitive domestic supply chain in India.”
It needs to be mentioned here that the slogan of Atma Nirbhar Bharat had also generated several doubts, for such campaigns in the past usually meant the Nehruvian policy of import substitution and the resultant regulatory maze. He also coined the motto of “People, Planet and Profit.” More importantly, he said, “People, Planet and Profit are interlinked to each other. All three can simultaneously flourish and co-exist.”
The third element, profit, is actually anathema to India politicians. Jawaharlal Nehru bristled at the mention of this word. He once told J.R.D. Tata, “Jeh, profit is a dirty word. Let’s not spoil our lunch talking about it!”
Unfortunately, this unhealthy, anti-business attitude was not Nehru’s idiosyncrasy; it pervaded, and still pervades, among almost all politicians across parties.
Worse, the entire intellectual class—the dinosaurs from the pre-liberalization era who still dominate public discourse—is afflicted with this disease. From academics, economists, media Brahmins, filmmakers, celebrities—everybody who is somebody keeps expressing anti-profit, anti-business views and sentiments.
Whether it is private schools or private hospitals—often derogatorily called ‘corporate hospitals’—are always slammed for being extortionists, unscrupulous, etc. Other businesses fare little better.
Against this backdrop, the fact that India’s Prime Minister uses the word ‘profit’ as something desirable is in itself revelatory. This is the good part.
But all is not good with economic governance. Modi has expressed pro-business sentiments in the past too. In the last year’s Independence Day speech, for instance, he lauded wealth creators. Much earlier, he had also said that the business of government is not business. Unfortunately, his views have rarely got reflected in the policies of his government. A most poignant example is the creation of a National Anti-profiteering Authority (NAA) in the wake of the implementation of the goods and service tax. It should have been set up, for the very term ‘profiteering’ is the antithesis of free market.
Yet, the NAA was constituted. It was a temporary body, or so we were told. But, as Milton Friedman famously said, nothing is so permanent as a temporary government programme. So, the NAA got a two-year extension a year ago. The pink dinosaurs in the system are very alert and active.
It is time the Prime Minister deactivated these dinosaurs. For the sake of the economy, businesspersons, and the nation..