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India Inc wants Narendra Modi as country's next PM

Last updated on: September 06, 2013 18:19 IST

India Inc wants Narendra Modi as country's next PM

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Subhadip Sircar and Suvashree Dey Choudhury in Mumbai

Nearly three-quarters of Indian business leaders believe the government has mismanaged the economy and want opposition leader Narendra Modi to lead the country after an election due by May next year, according to an opinion poll published on Friday.

With India's 80-year-old Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expected to step aside, only 7 per cent of 100 chief executive officers surveyed for the Economic Times/Nielsen poll backed the ruling Congress party's Rahul Gandhi for the premiership.

Rahul represents the fourth generation of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has led Congress, and India, for much of the time since independence from Britain in 1947. His late father, grandmother and great-grandfather were all prime ministers.

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Image: Gujarat's chief minister Narendra Modi (L) and Anil Ambani, chairman of Reliance Group, embrace as Ratan Tata, chairman Emeritus of Tata group, looks on during the inauguration ceremony of the Vibrant Gujarat global investor summit at Gandhinagar in the western Indian state of Gujarat.
Photographs: Amit Dave/Reuters

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Subhadip Sircar and Suvashree Dey Choudhury

But after a decade in power, Congress is widely expected to struggle at the polls, as the economy is growing at its slowest rate in a decade, and the rupee's plunge to record lows has evoked bad memories of an economic crisis in 1991.

"After a long policy drought, CEOs are impatient for strong leadership, intent, decisions and action. Modi they seem to think has more to show than Gandhi on all these counts," the Economic Times said in its comments on the results of the poll.

The survey was conducted by Nielsen between Aug. 1 and the beginning of September and covered the chief executive officers of companies worth more than 5 billion Indian rupees ($75.57 million) across different industries.

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Image: Rahul Gandhi, Indian parliamentarian and son of the chief of India's ruling Congress party Sonia Gandhi, smiles after wearing a turban during an election campaign rally in Mohali in the northern Indian state of Punjab.
Photographs: Ajay Verma/Reuters

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Subhadip Sircar and Suvashree Dey Choudhury

Neither Modi, a leader in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), nor Gandhi have been formally named as candidates and neither has publicly said they want the job, but the coming election has often been framed as a presidential-style race between the two men.

Indian business has in the past applauded Modi as an investor-friendly chief minister who has led his western state of Gujarat to double-digit economic growth.

And the results of the poll represent the strongest recorded vote of confidence yet from industry for Modi, who is otherwise often seen as a polarising figure, due to his Hindu nationalist ideology and the deadly riots in Gujarat in 2002, when according to rights groups at least 2,000 Muslims were killed.

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Image: Gujarat's chief minister Narendra Modi (L) embraces Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Indian energy company Reliance Industries, during the Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors' Summit 2011 (VGGIS) at Gandhinagar in the western Indian state of Gujarat.
Photographs: Amit Dave/Reuters

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Subhadip Sircar and Suvashree Dey Choudhury

Gandhi, 43, has focused more on reviving the Congress party's political fortunes and, along with his mother Sonia, he been a vocal supporter of welfare programmes for the millions of poor. Otherwise, he rarely speaks in public and has said little about how to boost India's economic growth.

His solitary appearance before captains of industry in January failed to ignite enthusiasm and his speech was criticised for being vague and rambling.

Regardless of who wins, an overwhelming majority of business leaders said they wanted a stable government after the election, though neither the BJP nor the Congress is expected to win a clear majority.

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Image: Rahul Gandhi, a lawmaker and son of India's ruling Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, speaks during the 2013 annual general meeting and national conference of Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in New Delhi.
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

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Subhadip Sircar and Suvashree Dey Choudhury

The worry among investors is that a "third front" made up of regional parties with competing agendas may end up forming a fragile government that may not survive long.

Business leaders surveyed in the poll, however, thought that the economy has bottomed out with 42 per cent forecasting a slight uptick in growth from the 4.4 per cent reported in the last quarter to over 5 per cent this year and the next.

That is still far below the level policy makers say is needed to create jobs for the millions of youth joining the workforce.


Image: A supporter of India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) holds a poster featuring Narendra Modi during a jubilation ceremony outside the party office in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad.
Photographs: Amit Dave/Reuters
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