Businesses wary of criticising Modi govt: Billionaire

NEW DELHI • 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 last Saturday. The audience included one of Mr Modi's most-trusted aides, Mr Amit Shah.

Mr Bajaj added: "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 last 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 the 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, was an Indian independence fighter and Mahatma Gandhi confidant who 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.

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

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 02, 2019, with the headline 'Businesses wary of criticising Modi govt: Billionaire'. Print Edition | Subscribe