BS Manthan: Reforms momentum will continue, says FM Nirmala Sitharaman | BS Events

Nirmala Sitharaman

Union Finance and Corporate Affairs Minister Nirmala Sitharaman unveils a special limited edition of Business Standard as it enters its 50th year, on the first day of Business Standard Manthan in New Delhi on Wednesday

From tariffs and Centre-state relations to how she unwinds, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman covered vast ground on the inaugural day of the BS summit; Telecom & IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw spoke about  India’s competitive advantage in the global semiconductor space. And, there was much more…

The government will continue the push on its reforms agenda in its “third term” since political continuity, along with a predictable and stable economic environment and taxation structure, is important to achieve the laid-down developmental goals, said Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman while delivering the keynote address at the inaugural edition of the annual Business Standard summit, Business Manthan, in New Delhi on Wednesday. 

The first day of the summit, celebrating Business Standard’s 50th year, saw a galaxy of stars from the world of economy, politics, business and sports.

In a fireside chat that followed Sitharaman’s keynote address, she explained the nuances of the higher tariff policy in some sectors. “Atmanirbhar Bharat is not a regressive step, but a considered, calibrated one,’’ she said. While pointing out 

that the imposition of tariffs is not a permanent stance of the government and that calibrations are being made to the policy, she said, “it is not a permanent shut the door”.

Inaugurating the two-day summit, the finance minister spoke on a range of issues: On how revenue collection supported by prudent expenditure management has helped to contain the fiscal deficit; how from a twin balance sheet problem in 2014, India now had a twin balance sheet advantage; why in matters of economy, Centre-state differences should not arise on grounds of politics; and how digital transformation was drawing the world’s attention and admiration. She also spoke about how she unwinds: “Listening to a lot of music and reading a lot of books.”

As a pathway to becoming a developed country by 2047, she listed four “I”s: Infrastructure, investment, innovation, and inclusiveness.

Before her address, Sitharaman unveiled the logo of 50 years of Business Standard. 

The summit, which was packed with multilayered conversations, included those with Union Railways, Communications, Electronics and IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, who said India was poised to become a “products nation”. 

“Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Viksit Bharat vision,” Vaishnaw said, “we will see an ecosystem that makes for India and the world.” India, he said, would become a products nation, and many of those products would come from deep-tech sectors.   

Looking into the future ahead of the general elections, and predicting the first 100 days of Modi government 3.0, he said, “We have a very good legacy of the last 10 years and the road map for the next 25 years.” In the years to come, he said, the government would bring change with continuity.

On whether India’s focus needed to be on manufacturing or services, Vaishnaw said the answer was not “or” but “and” with both manufacturing and services getting attention.

While reimagining India with the eye on 2047, Pennsylvania State University economist Rohit Lamba, too, made the point that figuring out the right mix for India in services and manufacturing would be key. “There is a China fetish that has crept in that jobs are going to come only from the factory floor. We need to move away from this idea,” he said, emphasising the need to shake up the thinking away from the cookie-cutter model.

He also made a strong case for ensuring sound education for children, linking it to the fortunes of the country. “We need to get basic primary and secondary education and the health of our children right — this is the primary constraint,” Lamba said. He said there was evidence that if a child’s health and education have not been developed at an early age, then, among other issues, “we are going to lose out on human capital”.

Speaking virtually from London, Financial Times’ chief economics commentator Martin Wolf argued in favour of prosperous capitalist democracies. 

Quoting Aristotle, he said that the best partnership is one that operates through the middle-class. “A stable democracy is one with a stable, contented, independent middle-class,” Wolf said. 

He also presented data from Washington, DC-based non-profit Freedom House to indicate that a decline in freedom had been observed in every region of the world, including in the United States and India, the world’s two largest economies.

The state of the markets in a country going into elections, meanwhile, had the attention of GQuant Investech Founder Shankar Sharma, a seasoned investor and financial expert. “The markets don’t care who runs the country,” he said, adding that they have a way of finding their rhythm. Whoever wins, he said, “India’s organic growth story is unstoppable in the decades to come”.

He, however, did point to an “ageing bull”. “Data shows that no bull market lasts over five years,” he said. “And an ageing bull market starts to draw blood.”

He advised on exercising caution when it came to the equity markets, suggesting that it would be wise to cap such investment at 30 per cent and put money into gold and fixed deposits. Within the markets, he said, largecaps are ageing, midcaps are neither here nor there, and while smallcaps are the story of the future, they are fraught with risks.

The challenges, opportunities, risks and complexities of artificial intelligence in a country as complex as India figured in another scintillating discussion. “If 2023 was the year of AI, 2024 will be the year of AI at scale,” said Irina Ghose, MD, Microsoft India.

Another conversation, around sports and its potential to drive India’s developed-country agenda, had Anju Bobby George, winner of World Athletics Championship medal in long jump, saying that “By 2036 (when India is pitching to host the Olympics), we’ll be at the top.”

Earlier in the day, during the inaugural session of the summit, T N Ninan, former editor and publisher of Business Standard, and Akila Urankar, director on its board, revisited the journey of the newspaper over five decades since its inception and the vision that continues to drive it.

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