Lucknow, Sept. 1: The Prime Minister today took his case for foreign investment in retail to the people, exhorting them to think “big” and saying that fears about reforms merely reflected the lack of self-confidence.
In one of the most persuasive speeches in favour of reforms, Manmohan Singh said: “I urge all Indians to think big. I urge them to unleash their creative potential.... We can take on the competition and make good use of new opportunities at home and abroad.”
Without naming either the Left or a section of the domestic industry opposed to foreign direct investment in retail, the Prime Minister told an LIC meeting: “I am reminded about the kind of apprehensions that were expressed when we first proposed foreign investment in insurance. We worry far too much about the risks and do not grasp adequately the power of our own capabilities.”
Yesterday, Singh had discussed the issue with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, perceived to be a reform-friendly chief minister.
Bhattacharjee’s party, the CPM, has been at the forefront of the campaign against opening up retail but the Prime Minister listed before the Bengal chief minister the expected gains from foreign investment in the sector.
The Prime Minister’s initiative comes at time the government is thinking of modifying its original plan and confining foreign investment in retail to some of the big cities. The CPM has opposed the amended plan, too.
In Lucknow, Singh referred to the performance of his host ' he was addressing a meeting to mark the golden jubilee of LIC ' to drive home his point about reforms.
LIC had proved all doubters of liberalisation wrong and surged ahead, creating new records in a more competitive market after the sector was opened up to FDI, he said.
The Prime Minister stressed on the need for radical reforms in the social sector for the improvement of basic facilities for the poor. Singh said he was appalled by the condition of healthcare and lack of power in villages.
Visiting Lucknow for the first time after becoming Prime Minister, Singh, however, disappointed Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, who requested him to announce some financial packages for the state.
Mulayam Singh got a mild reprimand instead.
The Prime Minister said a lot has to be done in Uttar Pradesh as the state lags behind on several fronts.
“The literacy rate in the state is poor and the state is lagging behind many others. I also watched reports on TV about deaths due to encephalitis. I feel that health services ought to be improved,” Singh said, much to the dismay of the chief minister who was sharing the dais with the Prime Minister and spreading cheer among Congress leaders in the audience.