Indian billionaire Rahul Bajaj says companies don't dare criticise Modi's government

Indian PM Narendra Modi speaking at a rally in Mumbai on Oct 18, 2019. Indian billionaire Rahul Bajaj said the government was doing a good job, but despite that, businesses are not confident it would appreciate if they openly criticise it.
Indian PM Narendra Modi speaking at a rally in Mumbai on Oct 18, 2019. Indian billionaire Rahul Bajaj said the government was doing a good job, but despite that, businesses are not confident it would appreciate if they openly criticise it.PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG) - Indian businesses are worried about repercussions should they criticise 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," Mr Bajaj told an audience in Mumbai on Saturday (Nov 30) that included one of Mr Modi's most-trusted aides, Mr Amit Shah.

"You're doing a good job, but despite that, we're not confident you'll appreciate if we openly criticise 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 policymakers and bankers.

Some have said that Mr Modi's government, which came to power in 2014, poses a threat to India's traditions of tolerance and public debate.

Mr Bajaj, 81, is chairman of Bajaj Auto, 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, Mr Jamnalal Bajaj, an Indian independence fighter and Mahatma Gandhi confidant, founded the group in 1926.

Mr Shah, who is Home Minister, pushed back against Mr Bajaj's remarks at the event organised by the Economic Times newspaper.

"I don't think anyone will believe people are scared after you asked this question," said Mr 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.