The one topic no one in the government has mentioned at the 19th Global Partnership Summit in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, is foreign direct investment in retail. Considering there are 46 countries represented at the summit and liberalisation of multi-brand investment rules was one of the key changes introduced by the government since the burst of policy actions since September 2012, it was a fair expectation.
The reason why Kolkata lost out on the summit is because the FDI move irked Trinamool Congress so much so that it left the coalition in September as a mark of protest. One of the reasons cited by the mandarins now is that Samajwadi Party too has not been over enthusiastic in favour of FDI in retail. Chief minister of UP Akhilesh Yadav had made this clear last year and any mention by Sharma could have put the host in a piquant situation. So, even though summit has shifted, the centre has avoided bringing up the topic at the summit. With countries like France, China, Korea, Japan, Australia, Russia and Brazil among the guest list, the stage was just right for India to woo foreign investors into the sector which has been recently liberalised. But today Sharma met his United Arab Emirates counterpart and given the interest airlines from that country are showing in the Indian aviation sector, FDI changes in the sector did apparently figure in the discussions. The R word was absent.
The summit, however, has plenty of other things to talk about. The theme is Global Partnership for Enduring Growth. The theme has gained currency over the past five years given the unprecedented depth of the financial crisis in both developed and developing countries. Significantly, UP has made a spirited case to investors to pump in money in the state and is doing a lot here to demonstrate it. The state has claimed that fundamental changes in the economic structure are on the anvil with an enabling policy regime and a facilitating bureaucracy to make investors plump for it. A demonstration of making politics and economic sense come together.
Shruti is a Senior Correspondent based in New Delhi