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March 24, 2000
The Prez dazzles corporate chiefs
Amberish K Diwanji in Hyderabad
Indian industrialists expressed satisfaction over the speech of the President of the United States, Bill Clinton. "What he said was on expected lines as far as policy goes, and very interesting as far as philosophy goes," remarked an industrialist.
Ratan Tata, chairman of the Rs 330-billion Tata Group, told rediff.com he was glad he had taken time off to hear the speech. "I really came down because of late I have become active in the Confederation of Indian Industry or CII that co-organised the event, and Tarun Das, the CII director general, asked me to come down. Having come to Hyderabad I decided to turn up to hear the speech and it was very inspiring."
Asked if he expected some concrete statements such as in increase in the number of H1 visas granted to Indians, Tata said one could not expect more from the US president's speech.
"In the US, these things are institutionalised and the President himself cannot do everything. But the very fact that he spoke of an economic partnership and stressed information technology is a very positive sign," said the soft-spoken Tatas' chairman.
Tata said that in his speech, Clinton had recognised that India as a future economic partner. "This is the best part and we must remember that we are just beginning," he added.
Tata agreed that Clinton's visit to Hyderabad would be a big boost to the city. "Hyderabad is already seen as a major IT city, and now it will also be seen as a commercial city," he added.
When asked if the recent boom seen in IT scrips was a bubble, he demurred. "No doubt a lot of this boom is paper money but it is also based on reality and expectation of a great future. That is why Wipro and Infosys scrips are priced so high," he added.
In his opening remarks, CII president Rahul Bajaj said that the US president could only lay the framework and after he returned, it was up to the people, especially the business community to take the programme forward.
Later, speaking to rediff.com, he reiterated his remarks. "The real nuts and bolts of this economic partnership can only come from the businessmen and entrepreneurs, and it is for us to work on it," said the Bajaj Auto chairman.
Bajaj warned that the Indo-US partnership could not be founded merely on IT and software. "IT and software are no doubt important, but they are more important as an aid and tool for businesses to help improve productivity. The economic partnership is based on all sectors, in all spheres," he stated.
The articulate CII president insisted that doubting the US's intentions was not fair. "Let us not forget that we are trying to undo a history of mistrust. I agree that sentiments and statements alone are not enough, but the fact that they have been made is a very positive step forward," he declared.
"Now India can try to become as important a trade partner of the US as China is today," he added.
Dewang Mehta, chief of National Association of Software and Service Companies or NASSCOM, who was in a hurry to catch the next flight to Bombay since he had been invited to the US President's function, insisted that software professionals had never asked Clinton to increase the number of H1 visas.
"We only said that the bill to increase the number of H1 visas -- which is expected to benefit software professionals from India -- is to be introduced in the Congress and request the president to help ease its passage," he stated.
Mehta said that Clinton's speech where he spoke of India and the US as partners in the IT zone would inspire more people to get into this field.
"It will finally goad the fence sitters who for some reason or the other have been wary of getting into IT. This in turn will boost IT in India," he claimed.
The NASSCOM chief said he expected not only an increase in new IT firms being set up, but an increase in venture capital firms coming to India from the US.
Former CII president N Kumar said that one major benefit from Clinton's visit would be an increased inflow of investment into India.
"Frankly, the problem is not investment which is flowing in regularly, it is that we still have too many bureaucratic hurdles that need to be cleared. What our bureaucrats forget is that the competition for international investment is not just between states within India but between nations. We have to be faster than the competition abroad," he said emphatically.
Indian Hotels and Tata Tea managing director R K Krishna Kumar said the most impressive part of Clinton's speech was his emphasis on removing poverty.
"It is very relevant and something that we in India must never lose sight of," he told rediff.com.
He replied in the positive when asked if Clinton's visit would boost economic ties. When it was pointed out that the last visit by a US president, Jimmy Carter, too had been well received only to be flounder, he said the era was different.
"Then Cold War politics dominated. Today it is age of economics and in this neither the US can ignore India nor can India ignore the US. Thus, we are bound to see an increased economic partnership," he said.
Mahindra and Mahindra managing director Anand Mahindra too was very positively affected by Clinton's speech.
"The best part of his speech was the extempore part, where he spoke about how in the future, empowerment and community will be the key components. In an era of individualism I think communities will be very important," added Mahindra.
Mahindra agreed that Clinton's visit more symbolic than substantive but insisted that it would pay off.
"Let's see the bright side. In Ranthambore he saw tigers and this picture, I am sure, must have been flashed round the world. So at least the world will now see India as a tiger, an economic tiger!" he said with a laugh.
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