Indian PM Modi makes investment pitch at World Economic Forum in Davos

Indian PM Narendra Modi speaking during a plenary session in the Congress Hall on the opening day of the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan 23, 2018.
Indian PM Narendra Modi speaking during a plenary session in the Congress Hall on the opening day of the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan 23, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

DAVOS, Switzerland – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made a pitch to global business and political leaders to look to India for investment opportunities, as well as answers to some of the world's most pressing problems.

Delivering the opening address at this year’s World Economic Forum meeting in Davos on Tuesday (Jan 23), he said the world needed not only more wealth, but also enhanced wellness, peace as well as prosperity, while societies needed to seek "wholeness".

India could offer answers to these challenges, he said, while urging the 3,000 participants at this year's meeting to "come to India".

Adding his voice to an "Invest in India" push rolled out here in Davos, he said that his government had made investing and doing business in India much easier today.

"India is removing the red tape and laying out the red carpet," he said. "Almost all areas of our economy have been opened to foreign direct investment," he added, noting that over 1,400 archaic laws that were an obstacle to doing business had been abolished in the last three years.

India has been on a charm offensive in Davos this year, after China stole the show at last year's event. A keynote speech by China’s President Xi Jinping, in which he pledged to promote free trade and globalisation and tackle climate change, went down well with the audience, especially amid concerns about growing populist and protectionist pressures in the West.

Mr Modi - the first Indian prime minister to make an appearance at Davos since 1997 - has brought with him half a dozen ministers as well as the largest Indian business delegation to ever attend the meeting in this Swiss alpine resort. India also hosted the opening reception at the Congress Centre on Monday, with a spread of Indian curries, spicy dishes and other delicacies to delight participants. 

Renowned Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan is also here, participating in various sessions, after being conferred a Crystal award, Davos' answer to the Oscars, for his work to help Indian girls who have been victims of vicious acid attacks.

In an hour-long speech in Hindi, Mr Modi cited a string of ancient Sanskrit verses, as well as the words of Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore, to back up his view that, for India, support for globalisation was not a recent phenomenon, which some forum participants later noted seemed to be a subtle dig at China's newfound enthusiasm for it last year. The Chinese stance had both surprised and cheered delegates, eager for reassurance amid fears then about what an incoming United States President Donald Trump would entail. 

Indians, said Mr Modi, had been devoted to the idea of fostering peace and harmony across the world since ancient times. 

Taking up the theme of this year's conference - creating a shared future in a fractured world - he pointed to divisions in the world which stemmed from corporate and individual greed, as well as countries acting in their narrow interest, rather than the common good.

This, he insisted, was not the Indian way. It had been the country's longstanding and deep-rooted view to regard the world as "family", noting that there were millions of Indians spread around the world. Indians also viewed humans as "children of Mother nature", who should not be at odds with their mother.

He cited a saying by Gandhi who said he wanted the windows in his house open to the world without fearing being uprooted by the winds. This, he added, was the philosophy of his government, to embrace openness and change with self-confidence.

He concluded by challenging participants to work for a world economy which was "more inclusive", while calling on countries to uphold a rules-based world order. He also urged reforms to global institutions to reflect the situation in today’s world.

Noting that his country was a model of democracy and diversity for the world, he said an India which was predictable, stable and progressive was good not only for India, but also the world.