Business Today

From the Editor

Chaitanya Kalbag | Print Edition: Dec 25, 2011

India's Parliament House does not resemble a ziggurat, but it does remind me of the Tower of Babel and how God descended to earth to check things out. He was so alarmed by what seemed achievable by all humans speaking one language, we are told, that he decided to scatter them and "confound their speech". So do not for a moment believe that "divide and rule" was invented by our British colonizers.

You do not owe the Great Divider any thanks if you live in the world's largest "demo-cracy". Every day since the Winter Session opened on November 22, our elected representatives have created mayhem over foreign direct investment in supermarkets (and quite a bit else). I encourage you to go to the Lok Sabha website and look at the "uncorrected debates"; start with on the day this was written, click backwards, and you will understand why Southeast Asian leaders like Lee Kuan Yew or Mahathir Mohamad believe that prosperity can never happen in a democracy.

No wonder then that India's business people are starting to give vent to their frustration and anger on microblogging sites like Twitter and at industry forums. The drumbeat of bad economic news is growing louder by the day. Gross domestic product grew at its slowest pace in two years in the July-September quarter, and we will be lucky if we hit 7.5 per cent for the full year to March. All round us there is stress and stasis, and as if to underline the fact that politics is driving the economy into the ground, we are about to hit election season. Five states go to the polls in 2012, including the bread-basket of Punjab, and the 800-pound political gorilla, Uttar Pradesh. Our policy team of Sanjiv Shankaran and Shweta Punj travelled through Uttar Pradesh and Punjab in search of signs of what matters most to people outside Delhi's Lutyens Zone. Anusha Subramanian added perspective from Maharashtra on how huge social-spending programmes like the MGNREGS have changed the economic landscape.

Farmers across the landscape feel squeezed and are resentful - input prices are rising, and they really do not benefit from rising food prices, something that retail FDI is touted as a fix for. As the economy starts to move through a rocky adolescence, conventional wisdom decrees that more people ought to move out of agriculture (which contributes just about 15 per cent of GDP but employs 53 per cent of the workforce) into manufacturing and the services sector. That is easier said than done. Share the BT team's insights.

The two sides of the development coin are very visible at Karchana, near Allahabad. There, villagers are angry over land acquired for a thermal power plant by Mayawati's government that eventually found its way into the hands of Jaiprakash Associates, the construction group that Suveen K. Sinha reports on in our cover story starting. The Gaurs of Jaypee may not be Horatio Alger characters, but they have certainly come from humble beginnings to be one of the country's brawniest infrastructure majors. Jaypee shot into the limelight with the flawless execution of the Buddh International Circuit where India's first F1 race was staged in October. On our cover, Executive Chairman Manoj Gaur is backdropped by the eight-lane Taj Expressway, as incongruous as it is spectacular in one of India's poorest states. Elections may come and go but highways endure, and the whiff of outsized opportunity is luring Japanese investors beset by stagflation and a soaring yen who had held gingerly back from India until the allure became irresistible, as Anand Adhikari discovered starting.

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