A Story About The India Story At WEF

Follow this daily blog by BQ Prime’s Managing Editor Menaka Doshi for all that you must know from the 2022 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting.

Ajit Gulabchand asks me the same question every Davos. “Why are we discussing India and HCC in Davos? Shouldn’t we be talking about the rest of the world here? We can discuss India and HCC back home.”

Fair question. In my defence, it wasn’t always like this.

When I first started covering the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting, maybe in 2004/05, the purpose was to engage with global issues and speakers.

Then in 2006, India Everywhere happened. The New York Times described it as “an extravagant public relations campaign by India intended to promote the country as the world’s next economic superstar”.

A year before we completed 60 years of Independence, India Everywhere was meant as a celebration and a counter offensive to the attention China was getting.

The central government’s India Brand Equity Foundation fronted the campaign but I’m quite sure its mastermind was Nandan Nilekani.

(Just the previous year The World Is Flat was published. Authored by Tom Friedman of the NYT. Inspired by Nandan Nilekani. We undervalue the effort Nilekani made to put India, hence Indian IT, hence Infosys on the map. To change the global perception from a country of snake charmers to coders.)

Anyway, to return to point, India Everywhere could not be ignored. That Davos trip was overwhelmed by interviews with ministers and CEOs of the over 150-member delegation. They stood in the snow, in dress shoes, politely waiting for this reporter and her team to get frosted equipment working and coordinating with an outdoor broadcasting van technician to get the signal to India. KV Kamath, Adi Godrej, Rahul Bajaj and YC Deveshwar (if memory serves me right), on a wooden platform, outside the Central Sporthotel. Davos regulars will smile, it’s the hotel where most Indian delegates would stay.

Turns out, more Indian viewers (I was with CNBC-TV18 then) preferred watching their business leaders in the snow than those interested in Euro/Dollar parity conversations. And thus it began…the tradition of talking to Indians in Davos about the India story.

(To be fair, the Americans and Europeans also spend most of their time talking to their leaders.)

Speaking of the India story, I bear good news and bad. We are the more cheerful group here in the Alps, what with the Americans and Europeans attending in small numbers, the Russians outlawed, the Chinese barely here.

Most Indian CEOs here lead large companies, that have deleveraged, captured market share and strengthened their position in the past few years. Their mood is brighter. They are also more inured to fighting inflation than businesses elsewhere.

The mood in Europe is circumspect due to all the uncertainty, inflation and energy prices, Amit Kalyani, deputy managing director of Bharat Forge said to me.

“There is a lot of concern and there is very low attendance. Wherein towards the end of May, a lot of Europe is shutting down for holidays, a lot of European plants are taking holidays because of slack demand or supply chain issues. So, there is, I would say definitely a lack of buzz at Davos as we spoke earlier, but I think you do see a lot of confidence and a lot of energy with the Indian companies here. I think the Indian companies have performed well during Covid. They have managed to overcome the challenges of Covid in a reasonable manner and I think—most companies here from India have good reason to be confident about the future.”

But, as they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Which is why I’m not surprised that HCC is still battling to get Rs 13,000 crore in government dues. Had it got the money it could have avoided a painful and prolonged debt restructuring program.

Now, its chairman Gulabchand warns that new infrastructure companies are also witnessing rising dues. Worse still, with the sharp rise in input costs and rising finance costs, if governments don’t make provisions for project cost escalation now, another wave of disputes, dues and debt restructurings will be triggered soon.

Got to wrap, the forecast is for rain…it was all day and it didn’t and I doubt my luck will hold anymore.

Read more from BQ Prime at Davos 2022:

Menaka Doshi is Managing Editor at BQ Prime.

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