Being receptive to criticism and open to course corrections are the hallmarks of good governance. Unfortunately, in the present polarised political atmosphere, the space for nuanced debate appears to be shrinking. The bitter row, amplified by the social media overdrive, following noted industrialist Rahul Bajaj voicing concern over prevailing fears of India Inc comes as the latest illustration of this disquieting trend. He was articulating a sense of collective frustration when he said, in the presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah and other Central ministers at a recent corporate event in Delhi, that there was fear among industrialists that their criticism would not be taken positively by the government. Ideally, such concerns must be addressed with fairness and sincerity by the government of the day and must lead to a frank engagement to sort out any irritants. But, what followed Bajaj’s remarks was a barrage of insinuations and below-the-belt-attacks against him and his businesses by the supporters of the ruling party. Dubbing genuine criticism of the government and its policies as anti-national has become the new normal. The growing intolerance to dissent and disagreement will mean slamming the doors on new ideas, thereby leading to policy stagnation. Bajaj is known to be outspoken and has a history of opposing government policies in the past as well. In 1993, he voiced domestic industry’s fears over foreign competition in the initial years of liberalisation, prompting then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao to reach out to business leaders and fine-tune the foreign trade and investment policy. Now, he is voicing the fears about domestic governance.
Though Shah assured the gathering of the captains of Indian industry that they can air their opinions freely and the government would address their concerns, the reactions that followed from his ideological co-travellers did not match with his sentiments. At a time when the economy is witnessing an unprecedented slowdown, there is a need for honest conversation between the government and India Inc. For this, the government must first acknowledge the problem and then set up a mechanism for dialogue to address the concerns of the corporate sector. Harassment from tax authorities in the name of meeting aggressive collection targets and uncertainty over future of investments in the light of economic slowdown are the key concerns of the industrial sector. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s response to the debate has not been very encouraging. By saying that airing critical views publicly could hurt national interests, she has only widened the trust deficit between India Inc and the government. Clearly, it is time for some course correction. The focus of governance has to move away from divisive issues to building a capable and competitive economy.