“Wealth creators are also important for the country, only then wealth can be distributed. How can wealth reach the poor, how can jobs be created,” the PM asked.
“If the public sector is important, so is the participation of private enterprise. Should members of the IAS alone be tasked with everything? Have we entrusted the IAS with running fertiliser factories and chemical enterprises? Then they are supposed to fly planes as well. What type of capability have we acquired by handing over the country to babus. Babus belong to us and so do the youth. The more opportunity we give to our youth, the more he will benefit,” Modi said.
The remark came against the backdrop of the bold push for privatisation of PSUs in the Budget and the allegations that the government planned to hand over PSUs to private players of its choice. If the Budget marked the jettisoning of the timidity the political class has historically displayed about the widely acknowledged need to dispose of resource-guzzling and perennially loss-making public sector units, the PM’s remarks during the debate on the motion of thanks to the President’s address marked a full-scale embrace and unabashed celebration of private enterprise.
Modi took the accusations and suspicions head on. “How can we exclude the private sector? There may have been a time when governments slandered the private sector. The world has changed now, society and the country today have got the capability. How can we declare all of them dishonest? Doing so would have fetched votes in the past, but the world has changed now. Everybody has got potential and they all should get the opportunity. We should not declare them dishonest. This culture is not going to work now,” he said.
Modi argued the case for the private sector by citing its accomplishments. “The government encouraged manufacturing of mobile phones by private players and, as a result, today even the poor have smartphones. The government encouraged private competition in the telecom sector and today tariff for calls on mobile phones is almost nil, while we can boast of the cheapest data rates. Take the case of the pharma sector. Are all the players there public enterprises? If India today has been able to serve the interest of humanity, then it is all due to the role of private pharma players,” he said.
“India is proud of the role of the private sector in national progress and in enhancing India’s prestige globally. Look at vaccines, if today India is proving useful to the cause of humanity, it is because of the role of private enterprise and we should trust the youth of our country,” he added.
Significantly, Modi framed his advocacy for the private sector, arguably the boldest ever by a politician on the floor of Parliament, as a recognition of the capabilities and potential of the youth and the middle class. His contention that babus could not be allowed to be the sole custodians of the economy should please entrepreneurs who have complained about the bureaucracy’s suspicions about private business.
To those who concluded that political compulsions may have dimmed Modi’s pro-private enterprise inclinations, leading him, instead, to repose trust in welfare politics, the speech completed the switching of gears evident first in the Budget. The assertive tone was also a strong indication that the government was going to press ahead with privatisation.