Prime Minister Narendra Modi opened the plenary session of the landmark World Economic Forum Jan. 23, in the backdrop of a report from the International Monetary Fund that India will be the world’s fastest growing major economy in 2018, and projected to grow at an annual clip of 7.4 percent. “We are building a NEW INDIA where one sixty of humanity is combined and committed to get good administration and better amenities for a better quality of life,” Modi declared.He lashed out at protectionism, and urged countries to follow India’s philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutambakam, the world is one.
Modi is the first Indian head of state to address the distinguished body, which was attended this year by some 70 heads of state and government, according to Reuters, as well as leading economists, business persons and thought leaders. Indian-American CEOs Satya Nadella of Microsoft and Sundar Pichai of Google, were also at the meet, as was Mukesh Ambani of India’s Reliance company.
Among the three major threats Modi warned the world body in his major address, are climate change with melting glaciers and sinking islands. Ironically, two meters of snow fell on Davos on opening day, the first of such magnitude in more than two decades, leading to some leaders not being able to make the trip and some forums being canceled, according to Washington Post writer Ishaan Tharoor, speaking on National Public Radio.
Modi’s listed terrorism as the second major threat, taking a dig at Pakistan when he scoffed at the artificial divide between “good” and “bad” terrorists, and rued the fact that young educated youth were taking to extremism.
The third threat, he said, was the rising power of protectionism and waning star of globalization. “Instead of globalisation, the power of protectionism is raising its head,” Modi warned, adding, “Their wish is not only to save themselves from globalisation, but to change the natural flow of globalisation,” he said taking a dig at U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America First” model. Trump is scheduled to speak at the Forum on Friday, but it is not yet known if he has a one-on-one with the Indian leader.
Modi said fractures and fault lines in the international arena “are really frightening.”
Twenty one years ago when the last Indian Prime Minister Deve Gowda attended Davos, Modi noted, there were no signs of Brexit, the Euro was not yet a currency, the Asian financial crisis was not in sight, few had heard of Osama bin Laden or Harry Potter. Adding humor to his speech, Modi said Google had yet to be launched, and a web search for ‘Amazon’ would have brought up more references to a river in South America. And Tweeting was something only the birds did, said the leader who made it the hallmark of his political campaign and who has some 39.6 million followers at last count. “Happy to be in Davos to address the @wef, says PM @narendramodi #IndiaMeansBusiness,” his Twitter feed said.
India’s GDP in 1997, was $400 billion. Today it is six times that, Modi pointed out. Now, some two decades later, we live in a society that is a network of other complex networks. Today, we are living in the world of big data, AI and robots. Technology has impacted every aspect of our lives, Modi said.
Most of all, Modi shone a light on India’s economy. “There are enough reasons for India to be known globally. The most important reason is that it is an Attractive business Destination along with its Vast Market and strong and stable fundamentals,” Modi said. India had it all, along with the dividends of democracy, demography and dynamism. The ‘License Raj’ has been done away with and “we are removing the red tape and laying out the red carpet,” Modi said.
The Prime Minister said efforts are ongoing in India to bring about structural reforms to formalize the informal economy; further improve the regulatory and policy issues facing businesses; using technology to transform governance and deliver public entitlements and services; significantly upgrading the physical infrastructure including roads, railways, air and sea ports; urgently upscale and improve the rules governing economic activity; and build an inclusive economic development model.
Introducing the Prime Minister at the packed gathering, Klaus Schwab, founder of WEF, said, “In a seemingly fractured world, India presents a bright image of dynamism, optimism and promise.” He complimented Modi for bringing about “structural reforms …. that have enhanced India’s long term economic outlook.” The theme of this year’s meeting is “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World,” which Schwab noted was offset by India’s guiding spiritual principle of “Vasudhaiva Kutambakam” meaning the whole world is one family.
At an earlier meeting the night before his address, Modi met 40 industry leaders from 18 countries, including Nadella, and Ambani, where he focused on India’s growth story and presented investment opportunities, invited questions and sought suggestions, NDTV news reported. The Prime Minister said he was “moving from ease of doing business to ease of living” and that his new focus would be “less conflict with government,” NDTV reported.
Modi led a huge government and business delegation to the WEF, reminiscent of the early 1990s, when India’s liberalization was taking off and its economic reforms were the talk of Davos.
“Narrating India’s growth story and presenting exciting opportunities for global business in India at #Davos, PM @narendramodi hosted a roundtable meeting with CEOs of top global companies,” Ministry of External Affairs said in a tweet, Indo Asian News Service reported.
Mahindra Group Chairman Anand Mahindra, who was at the roundtable, praised Modi, tweeting, “Let me add my compliments to you all. You did us proud with your world-beating organizational skills. Every global CEO was floored by the personal touches in your hospitality. I am proud to be on the board of Invest India.”
Apart from speeches and roundtables, India used soft power at Davos.
“In addition to listening to PM keynote address at the plenary session, participating and speaking in several sessions I look forward to joining the Yoga classes on the Alps early morning ! India’s soft power is on full display at World Economic Forum,” Amitabh Kant, CEO, NITI Aayog tweeted, according to an IANS report.
Upon his arrival at Davos Jan. 22, Modi held a bilateral meeting with the President of the Swiss Confederation Alain Berset where Modi tweeted, “We reviewed the scope of our bilateral cooperation and discussed ways to deepen it even further.”
Modi also interacted with 120 members of the International Business Council, which is a part of the WEF, IANS reported. He has a packed schedule throughout his visit.