India needs to project its new image, its stability, says US business leader

New York, June 17 (IANS) Recent changes in China has made it less predictable and this gives India a big opportunity to project its stability, a leading US business leader said Tuesday.

While the conditions for doing business in India have improved and businesses are “thrilled by the shift” in India over the past year, there was still a lingering image problem, Sandra Peterson, the Group Worldwide Chairman of Johson & Johnson said Tuesday. Therefore, India has to be more vocal about projecting its stability and image, she said.

“You cannot change the image of operating in India over 30 years in just a year,” she said. She was speaking at the Asia Society Policy Institute on “India Under Modi: One Year In.”

She said that democracy was “messy” in the US and it was the case in India, but American business leaders don’t make the connection and see India’s democratic process in isolation.

Answering question from the audience about corruption, Peterson said that India was not as corrupt as many places and her company operated there under strict codes against corrupt practices. She added that corruption was not at the top of the list of concerns for businesses to operate in India.

International Monetary Fund Executive Director Rakesh Mohan said that in the last year, India has overcome the despondency that had marked the previous three years. Institutions abroad were more upbeat about India’s economy, with Citibank being the most optimistic, even more than the Reserve Bank of India or the Indian government, he said.

But private investment has yet to pick up, he said. Public sector investments would help lead the private sector out of the slowdown.

Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who is the president of the Asia Society Policy Institute, announced the formation of a policy initiative task force to create a roadmap for India to join the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). It is to be co-chaired by Ajay Banga, the CEO of MasterCard, and Shyam Saran, the Chairman of the National Security Advisory Board.

Rudd said that it was important for both India and APEC for New Delhi to join it and many members favored it.

Shivshankar Menon, the former foreign secretary and national security adviser, said that there was a consistency to Indian foreign policy that was reassuring to the world. There was a progression from the National Democratic Alliance to the United Progressive Alliance, and now, to the BJP, with each government adopting the success of the previous government and “putting its gloss on it.”

The biggest change under Modi was India adopting a pro-West stance as seen in its “doubling down” in relations with the US and even its building relations with Israel, he said.

A former US State Department and National Security Council official, Ashley Tellis, said a welcome surprise for the US was how Modi overlooked the denial of visa to him and has worked to further relations with Washington.

There was a consensus with the US on Asian policies based on China not being dominant in Asia, he said.

Modi came to the US with the idea that Washington and New Delhi should do things together for the world, a multilateral and not just a bilateral agenda, he said.

Indrani Bagchi, The Times of India’s Senior Diplomatic Editor, said that the policy of “benign neglect” of Pakistan was likely to change eventually. She noted that in the past year there has been no major terrorist attack in India and infiltration of terrorists has come down.

Modi has used two state leaders to deal with difficult bilateral issue involving neighbors, she said. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamta Bannerjee was put at the forefront of his successful effort to implement a border agreement with Bangladesh, she said. Navigating the relationship with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa helped Modi deal with Sri Lanka, she added.

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