India Insight

“People need to be allowed to do business” – The Arvind Kejriwal interview, part 2

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By Frank Jack Daniel and Sruthi Gottipati

Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s new chief minister, stormed to power in the national capital in December on an anti-corruption platform.

His Aam Aadmi Party, or “Common Man’s Party”, uses a broom as its symbol to suggest it is sweeping the dirt out of politics. Kejriwal, a bespectacled former tax collector, spoke to Reuters in a wide-ranging interview a month after getting the top job, from the same modest apartment he’s lived in for the past 15 years. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of the second part of the interview. Reuters will publish the third and final part on Sunday.

(“Allow us to make mistakes, allow us to learn” – The Arvind Kejriwal interview, part 1)

On Monday night — surrounded by idols of the deity Ganesh (known in Hinduism as the remover of obstacles), books on Mahatma Gandhi and the Quran, activism awards, plastic flowers, and of course a broom — Kejriwal sipped a glass of warm water for his bronchitis as he spoke.

Kejriwal’s administration in January barred foreign retailers from setting up shop in Delhi, a blow to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s efforts to attract overseas investment and revive the economy.

A kirana of one’s own

India’s kiranas, or small general stores, fear that the country’s decision to allow Wal-Mart and other foreign companies to invest in grocery stores and other kinds of retailers will hurt their businesses.

They should go to Bangalore and talk to Nandini. She might brighten their mood.

Nandini, who lives in Bangalore’s Indiranagar neighbourhood, was at Aditya Birla Group’s More retail store, eyeing the detergents when I interviewed her about the new rules on foreign direct investment, or FDI.

“Things here are more attractive,” she said. “You can see more options, but for my daily chores I always run in to our local shop nearby.”

Political crisis in India: Mamata Banerjee moves out, UPA should move forward

It wasn’t unexpected. After more than three long years of association with the UPA II coalition government, key ally Mamata Banerjee is taking her name off the lease, packing up her things and getting ready to move out. Whether she has taken Congress’ chances for holding power in India with her depends on how strong — and willing — the party’s other friends are.

This move, precipitated by her anger at urgent government moves to fix India’s economy, is a case of better late than never. There is no point being part of a coalition if you don’t like how it works or the decisions that it makes.

Banerjee isn’t moving out just yet. After giving the coalition 72 hours to relook at its recent initiatives, she has given another 72 hours to the coalition before her ministers resign on Friday, Sept. 21. Her demands: rollback diesel prices, scotch a plan to allow foreign direct investment in India’s retail businesses and spend more money on keeping home cooking gas prices artificially low.

India and the art of the 24-hour economic reform

It’s not every day that India makes such a dramatic move as raising diesel prices, or allowing foreign direct investment in its debt-walloped passenger airlines. It’s certainly not every day that it caps this 24-hour period by allowing foreign investment in retail businesses.

In short, big international companies like Wal-Mart will be able to start their own shops in India, or will be able to buy up to 51 percent of existing retail businesses. This could affect small grocery stores like Nilgiris in southern India all the way down to local street vendors.

The Indian government made all these moves as part of increasingly urgent efforts to firm up its sagging economy. While the diesel price rise of 5 rupees a litre and the retail moves are sure to cause a lot of anger and pain on the part of many Indians, the government has suddenly revealed a desire to think about the collective future of the country.

from Global Investing:

Retail volte face confirms India as BRIC that disappoints

Jim O'Neill, the Goldman Sachs banker who coined the term BRICs to capture the fast-growing emerging-markets quartet of Brazil, Russia, India and China,  has fingered India as the BRIC that has disappointed the most over the past decade in terms of reforms, FDI and productivity. New Delhi's latest decision to put on hold a landmark reform of its retail sector will only confirm this view.

The government's backtracking on plans to allow foreign investment in supermarkets will not surprise those accustomed to New Delhi's record on key economic reforms. But it means India's weak performance on FDI receipts will continue and that's bad news for the worsening balance of payments deficit.  Speaking of the retail volte face, O'Neill said: "They shouldn’t raise people's hopes of FDI and then in a week, say, 'we’re only joking'".

Various Indian lobby groups that oppose the reforms contend that foreign giants such as Wal-Mart and Tesco will kill off the livelihoods of millions of small traders.

from Global Investing:

What worries the BRICs

Some fascinating data about the growing power of emerging markets, particularly the BRICs, was on display at the OECD's annual investment conference in Paris this week. Not the least of it came from MIGA, the World Bank's Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, which tries to help protect foreign direct investors from various forms of political risk.

MIGA has mainly focused on encouraging investment into developing countries, but a lot of its latest work is about investment from emerging economies.

This has been exploding over the past decade. Net outward investment from developing countries reached $198 billion in 2008 from around $20 billion in 2000. The 2008 figure was only 10.8 percent of global FDI, but it was just 1.4 percent in 2000.

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