|Pranab plays Dravid|
|Tuesday, 02 August 2011 00:00|
Monday’s meeting of finance minister Pranab Mukherjee with industry leaders is likely to raise a huge expectation wave. From a government that has been seen to be rudderless in the middle of its term, Mukherjee has stepped up to make quite strong commitments. He and the Congress party will have to steer very hard to ensure that these come good, especially the assurance of passing through a slew of contentious Bills through Parliament in this session itself. As settings go, the finance minister could not have chosen a better occasion. The PMEAC had, earlier in the afternoon, revised downwards its projection for GDP growth in this fiscal to 8.2% from 9%. Almost all the industry leaders who trooped in for the meeting had expressed the fear of such a slowdown, to which the government’s inertia has done no good. While Mukherjee has met some of the participants off and on at some point this year, mostly after the Budget, PM Manmohan Singh last met the industry leaders in mid-2010. This meeting was, therefore, more like a continuation from there instead of one with the finance minister to pressing for relief in specific areas. In fact, the invitees to this meeting were the same as those who figure in the Prime Minister’s council for trade and industry, with some additions. While it would be facile to read too much into the decision of Singh to leave the centrestage to Mukherjee, he must have been guided by the knowledge that the issues likely to figure in the pow-wow would be quite up the finance minister’s street. It also helps that as the trouble-shooter for the government, Mukherjee is more hands on with the issues the industry captains were likely to throw at him.
At one level, the meeting itself was significant as the UPA government has been running scared of meeting them, for fear the civil society and elements within the Congress party would dub it as reneging on a pro-poor agenda. The government, therefore, was keen to give out the message that it has got the better of its self-imposed scare psychosis. While it is obviously too early to figure out if that went home, a clear demand from the industry will be for government backup for its demand for raw materials including land, for environment clearances and showing a commitment to take prompt decisions. Mukherjee would have also taken the meeting to express a concern often expressed by government managers of competition within India Inc to run down their rivals, which has reached massive levels in the past year. In an interview with FE, corporate affairs minister Veerappa Moily has acknowledged the impact of these battles on the functioning of the government in a tough year for the world economy.