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Not afraid to stand with industrialists, says Narendra Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, governor Ram Naik and Union home minister Rajnath Singh at a foundation stone-laying ceremony in Lucknow on Sunday. Photo: PTI

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday took the battle to the opposition, disputing its recent claims that the Union government was unduly favouring big business.

Modi also attacked Congress president Rahul Gandhi for allegedly denigrating Indian business, seeking to turn on its head the entire argument of the Congress party, which has been claiming that not everything is above board on the recent purchase of Rafale aircraft from France.

Speaking at the launch of various development projects in Lucknow, Modi said industrialists too, like labourers, farmers and bankers, play an important role in nation-building and that it was wrong to hold all of them morally deficient.

“Should we insult them? Should we call them thieves and burglars?,” he said, before adding, “But yes, one indulges in wrongdoing, he either has to flee the country or has to spend his life inside a jail.”

In a veiled attack on the Congress, the principal opposition party, Modi said he was not among those who feared standing beside industrialists. “When one’s conscience is clear and intention is noble, you don’t get tainted by standing with anybody. Those people have such fears who don’t want to meet in public but will do everything behind the scene,” he said.

The Congress party was quick to respond.

“Congress is not against industrialists or capitalists. But it is against crony capitalists. The suit boot ki sarkaar reflects crony capitalism. PM gave a long speech on development. But the question is that if development is happening in the country then why is economy in a poor state and why are farmers selling their produce below MSP (minimum support price)?” Manish Tewari, former Union minister and Congress spokesperson told reporters on Sunday evening.

The PM’s response is significant as it comes in the backdrop of Congress party trying to link the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to big business. In early 2015, Gandhi had alleged that Modi was leading a suit boot ki sarkaar (pro-rich government), putting the government on the defensive.

Recently, Gandhi alleged that the government has exponentially increased the cost of Rafale aircraft being purchased from France to benefit some Indian industrialists. The government has denied these allegations.

To be sure, the NDA has on several occasions clarified that its government favoured business as they are a key economic agent.

After presenting the Union budget for 2015-16, finance minister Arun Jaitley had said, “I have always believed that there is hollow argument in this country that you are either on the side of the poor or on the side of the industry. I am on both sides. If I do not earn from industry, then how will I provide services for the poor. Hence, I do not think there is a conflict here, both these can walk hand-in-hand,” he said.

“Any such statements in the run-up to 2019 is significant. This whole issue around corporates versus poor is important because if the Congress party is able to raise this issue aggressively, then the BJP will have to find a way to tackle it. Modi’s choice of venue is interesting because Uttar Pradesh is not really a capitalist state unlike Gujarat, but is politically very crucial,” Badri Narayan, an Allahabad based political analyst.

Former chief economic adviser in the finance ministry Arvind Subramanian has often used the term “stigmatized capitalism” to explain the hesitation of Indian policymakers to take pro-industry reforms.

“My hypothesis is that India is affected by stigmatized capitalism, where there is not enough trust in the private sector or in the ability of the state to regulate the private sector. It is making it much more difficult to give the private sector a bigger role. It is easier to give a public or a quasi-public entity a bigger role rather than getting more private sector participation,” Subramanian said in his interview with Mint earlier this month.

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