The only significant fallout of the World Economic Forum meet is the report of a survey administered to more than 100 WEF participants. The government expects 8 per cent real gross domestic product growth, a target now enshrined in the tenth plan document. These participants were asked about India’s likely growth rate in the next five years. Thirty-seven per cent opted for 5 per cent, 59 per cent picked 6 per cent and 4 per cent believed in 8 per cent. Ninety-four per cent of the respondents felt that India could not overtake China’s competitive edge by 2007. Perhaps the Confederation of Indian Industry should ask itself whether this annual ritual of the WEF or India Economic Summit serves any purpose at all. In part, the objective is perhaps to sell reforms to the Indian government. At this meeting also, CII came up with 19 recommendations that will propel India to 8 per cent growth. These mention clichéd agenda items like public investments in social and physical infrastructure, stepping up savings and investment rates and reducing government expenditure. Such arguments are not new, although they have a strong industry bias.
A key feature of this year’s WEF was the government’s distancing itself from the meet. This was the first year in a decade of WEF activities that the prime minister, the deputy prime minister and the finance minister failed to attend. Since this distancing by the government is across the board, it is unlikely to be coincidental. One wonders whether CII is being punished for real or imagined transgressions on Gujarat or whether the government wanted to avoid a sense of déjà vu, with criticism about non-delivery of reforms having become a perennial feature. There is plenty of lecturing, from inside and outside, that goes on. Attempting to showcase India also does not serve much purpose. Since 1991, the likes of Ms Colette Mathur must be tired of projecting India’s 8 per cent plus potential, a potential that continually fails to materialize. Having digested the findings of the survey, CII ought to do some serious introspection about whether such WEFs should be scrapped. The counter-argument that WEFs also provide an opportunity for networking will not wash. Participants are an incestuous lot and have several opportunities for meeting and networking otherwise. An alternative is to design future WEFs with state governments in mind. After all, the blunting edge of policy reform is often at the level of states. Given the number of states that exist, this should keep the WEF and the CII going for more than 20 years. By then, the 8 per cent objective may become somewhat more real.