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Modi assures reforms, global CEOs want them quicker

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New York, Sep 25 (IANS) Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his meetings here with top corporate leaders, has pitched for stronger inflows of foreign capital into India while assuring reforms, prompt decisions and transparency. The chief executives were impressed but wanted the pace of reforms to be hastened.

Following an interaction with the leaders in the financial sector in the morning, the prime minister held two more such engagements — an hour-long interface with the top brass of media and entertainment industry and a 90-minute dinner meet with 42 of the world’s top corporate leaders.

Indian interlocutors said those at the meetings were eager to support Modi’s initiatives — like on “Make in India”, “Digital India”, “Skill India” and “Startup India” — and also viewed the South Asian country among their top five markets to do business with.

“Foreign direct investment all over the world has fallen but in India it increased by 40 percent. This reflects confidence in the Indian economy,” the prime minister said during the interaction over dinner with the chief executives, drawn from Fortune 500 companies.

“Reform in governance is my Number One priority. We are for simplified procedures, speedy decision-making, transparency and accountability,” said the prime minister, before dining with them at the Waldorf Towers Hotel in Manhattan where he is staying.

Indian officials said the net worth of all the companies represented at the meet was over $4.5 trillion. They included Ford, Lockheed Martin, DuPont, IBM, GE, Boeing, Pepsi, CitiBank, Starwood, MasterCard, Marriot, Caterpillar, Merck, Qualcomm, Saandisc and Cisco.

Modi also met individually with the US-India Business Council chair Ajay Banga, industrialist and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, Lockheed Martin chief Marillyn A. Hewson and Aecom chief executive Mike Burke.

Among them, Bloomberg said his business empire in India was employing around 2,500 people currently, of whomn 98 percent were Indians. He said the intention was to double the numbers soon. Modi thanked the former mayor for his insights, as he is also India’s knowledge partner for “Smart Cities” project.

Later, the prime minister himself gave an update on his meetings during the packed day.

“Met top American CEOs from media and entertainment sector. They were enthusiastic about the change ‘Digital India’ initiative is driving,” Modi tweeted, adding: “Digital technology has a vital role in making democracy stronger and in overall human resource development.”

More specifically, the prime minister spoke of his government’s vision to connect the 600,000-odd villages in India with broadband and emphasized that digital technology will increasingly play a major role in further strengthening democracy and India’s development narrative.

“My interaction with the Fortune 500 CEOs was on investment opportunities in India and why they must come and ‘Make in India’,” said the prime minister.

Amitabh Kant, secretary in the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, who was present during most of the meetings, said later that the general drift of the interaction with top CEOs was vibrant, constructive and positive — all this “over exotic Indian cuisine”.

Briefing the media, India’s foreign office spokesperson Vikas Swarup said the prime minister made it a point to interact with each of the 42 chief executives at the meeting, and was particularly keen to know what their areas of concern were which his government could address and resolve.

“By and large the mood was upbeat. There was a general consensus that the prime minister was effecting change in India. The only thing which these chief executives said was: Please make these changes faster,” Swarup said.

The prime minister said he believed in deregulation and in giving private sector the space to develop, with predictable, transparent and accountable government.

Arun Singh, India’s Ambassador to the US, said: “It came through clearly that — and most people felt — this was a very good moment for India in the global context.” He said there was support for “Make in India”, “Skill India”, “Digital India” and “Smart Cities” programmes.