Indian businesses are worried about repercussions should they criticize Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration, billionaire Rahul Bajaj said in a rare display of a corporate leader expressing reservations about the government publicly.
“None of our industrial friends will speak about it, but I’ll say that openly,” Bajaj told an audience in Mumbai on Saturday that included one of Modi’s most-trusted aides, Amit Shah. “You’re doing a good job, but despite that, we’re not confident you’ll appreciate if we openly criticize you.”
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was reported as saying on Friday that there is “profound fear and distrust among our various economic participants” ranging from industrialists to policy makers and bankers. Some have said that Modi’s government, which came to power in 2014, poses a threat to India’s traditions of tolerance and public debate
Bajaj, 81, is chairman of Bajaj Auto Ltd., the world’s largest maker of three-wheelers. He attended Harvard Business School and also owns stakes in an investment company and an insurance firm. His grandfather, Jamnalal Bajaj, an Indian independence fighter and Mahatma Gandhi confidant, founded the group in 1926.
Hours later Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, head of Indian drug-maker Biocon Ltd. spoke out too.
“Hope the govt reaches out to India inc for working out solutions to revive consumption n growth,” Shaw tweeted responding to a news story about Bajaj’s comments. “So far we are all pariahs n govt does not want to hear any criticism of our economy.”
Shah, who is home minister, pushed back against Bajaj’s remarks at the event organized by the Economic Times newspaper.
“I don’t think anyone will believe people are scared after you asked this question,” said Shah, who holds what’s considered India’s second-most important job. “The government has been run in the most transparent way, and we’re not afraid of any sort of opposition.”
India is saddled with the slowest economic growth in more than six years as consumers curb spending, businesses hold back on investments and export demand slumps.
Gross domestic product rose 4.5% in the September quarter from a year ago, down from 5% in the previous quarter, data releases on Friday showed.