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'Poor man' salutes wealth creators
- Chidambaram gives away awards to industry leaders

Mumbai, Oct. 30: Finance minister Palaniappan Chidambaram reckons that 'creation of wealth is the highest pursuit of mankind' ' and he expects India's best-known wealth creators to continue to generate more money not only for themselves but also for the country.

The minister made an impassioned speech before India's foremost wealth creators at a function organised by Businessworld, an ABP publication, to honour India's most respected companies.

'About 15 to 20 years ago, wealth creation was considered a sin, even a crime. I know of many wealth creators who were put in prison for not adhering to an excise law. Thankfully, all that has changed. Unless wealth is created, it cannot be distributed. Without wealth being distributed, poverty cannot be wiped out,' he said, building a cogent argument for vibrant capitalism that the communists might find hard to confute.

'I am proud to see so many wealth creators here under one roof,' the minister said, adding half in jest that he felt humbled by the fact that Aveek Sarkar, chief editor of the ABP Group, had invited the 'poorest man' in the audience to present the awards.

'The philosophy of inclusive growth is an idea that must be widely respected,' Chidambaram said. 'Wealth created should be for all sections, not for a few of us. Not only for India's most dynamic companies but wealth must be created even for the farmer with one hectare of land.'

'The other idea is that there is no ideology that is good or bad. Every ideological position is suspect and one must question it. Just as one questions the relevance of nationalisation, we must question uninhibited privatisation,' Chidambaram said. His words should win the hearts of many communists who were not present at the function.

In a lighter vein, Chidambaram reminded the large gathering of corporate captains, which included Anil Ambani, vice-chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries (India's largest private sector company); M.S Banga, chairman of Hindustan Lever (the biggest fast-moving consumer goods firm); Subir Raha, CMD of ONGC (the company with the largest market capitalisation) and A.K. Purwar, chairman of State Bank of India (the largest commercial bank in the country), 'of the umbilical chord that binds us'.

'You create wealth, I help distribute it. Let me remind you that Monday is the last day to pay your taxes. There will be no further extensions,' he warned as the hall erupted in laughter. 'I am sure having made record profits last year, you'll pay Caesar his due.'

The awardees had been picked by their peers in industry who voted on the intangible virtues of respect, ethics and dynamism. In a repeat of last year, Infosys Technologies was voted the most respected company in India followed by Reliance Industries and Wipro in that pecking order.

The corporate czars came with their spouses. Nandan Nilekani, CEO of Infosys Technologies, which was also anointed as the most ethical company, the most globally competitive and the best in class in the world of information technology, came with his wife Rohini.

Gautam Singhania arrived with his comely better half Nawaz Modi Singhania and Tina Ambani came with her long distance runner husband Anil Ambani.

The bankers were led by Purwar and Aditya Puri, CEO of HDFC Bank.

Reliance ' one of only two corporates left in the Top Ten since the awards ceremony was instituted in 1983 (the other was Hindustan Lever) ' was also voted as the most dynamic company.

Jet Airways chairman Naresh Goyal once again grabbed the trophy for the best in the travel and hospitality segment. In the background, Saroj Datta, executive director at Jet Airways, whooped with joy and was seen relaying the information within seconds to Goyal's wife Anita who was away in London.

Chidambaram, who had a hectic day in the city on Friday with several functions round the clock, looked quite relaxed as he mingled with the wealth creators. He did not lose the opportunity to drive home a message that his ministry wanted to convey.

'Building this country and making it liveable, a little more dignified for millions in this country, is a collective effort,' he said.

He said that 13 years ago when reforms were first launched in the country, the government realised that a state-controlled economy was not sufficient. 'Thirteen years later, we have come to accept that space for the private sector must be enlarged.'

At the same time, there were some hard questions that needed to be asked. 'The time has come,' Chidambaram told the corporate honchos, 'to ask how long can we keep the Indian private sector to be insulated from competition.'

'After all, one of the world's best airlines is run by the government of that country. The world's biggest courier service company is run by the government of that land. Many seaports are owned by governments and many banks as well,' he said, indicating that his government was loath to go through with indiscriminate privatisation.

'We must allow space for the private sector and public sector to compete. We must show that's the way for industry and trade. We must embrace excellence. We cannot take pride that we are the best in the country. We must be best in the world,' he said.

Reminiscing about his association with Businessworld many years ago, the finance minister said many would probably not remember that he was a columnist once for the magazine. 'Listening to economists is quite easy, writing about it is a different ballgame. I enjoyed that every fortnight.'

Raman Roy, chairman and managing director of Wipro Spectramind who received the award in the ITES sector, a new award instituted this year, was ecstatic. 'Some people have woken up, others have yet to,' he said.

Asked how Infosys had managed to retain its crown as the most respected company, Nilekani was surprisingly at a loss for words. Wife Rohini piped up helpfully: 'You have to direct that question to the people who chose.'

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