JUNE 6, 2004
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Market Research Jitters
The big market research (MR) problem: people, when asked, often tell you what they think you want to hear rather than what they really think.

Maggi Five
Say 'Maggi', you get '2 minutes' in response. But the brand is talking '5' all of a sudden.

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Business Today,  May 23, 2004
First 100 Days Test

There come key moments in a democracy's history that require-nay, demand-clarity of the highest order. Clarity of both principle and pragmatism. The Lok Sabha elections having concluded, and that too with so much blood on the street to think about, this is precisely such a moment for India.

The previous government began with a bang-a nuclear test, taken by many as a signal that India had guts, and meant business. The new government has its own First 100 Days Test, and it had better face it with courage-and clarity. For, a failure would amount to a betrayal of the electorate's mandate.

The people of India are crying out for reforms. They want choice. They want freedom. They want the liberty to gain and pursue livelihoods-without being bullied by so-called authorities, official or self-appointed. They do not want any arbitrary arm-twisting or even interference by the state. On economic evidence, an efficient way to meet these needs is to empower market forces, so that resources are allocated by the collective minds of millions rather than an arbitrary power elite of 'planners', while ensuring that these forces operate under the secular framework of the rule of law.

Growth and justice can, and do, go hand-in-hand.

Reducing state interference in life's outcomes also means privatising state-owned businesses. Privatisation requires the surrendering of state control, which is different from mere 'disinvestment' to help fill the state's coffers. Governments must not run businesses, and that's that. So this aspect of reforms must continue-on principle-even if done under conditions of higher transparency and wider public endorsement.

Beyond that, agricultural reforms must be made an utmost priority. Rural India is restless for change, for dynamism, and for the bounty that reforms have delivered to parts of urban India. Ignoring this will doom any government to come. Remember, the first signs of frustration with India's decrepit central planning system came from the rebellious farmers of Punjab. The rest of rural India has proved far more patient--or so we think. Ask farmers. The hope lies in technology and economics coming together to revolutionise education and farming.

For the restlessness to translate into genuine growth--and job expansion-India needs enormous investment. And it's no use pretending that the country can generate its own funds at a rate sufficient to meet expectations of the people at large. Foreign direct investment (FDI) is sorely needed-and in an order of magnitude as big as China's annual intake. Anything less than a target of $50 billion per annum should be considered unambitious.

The overall idea is to make a double-digit growth rate sustainably possible. After the heady pace of the early-to-mid 1990s, India has experienced a slight dip in average growth-enough to make 'feel good' sound like a cruel joke to many.

Cruelty, of course, is often different things to different people. This adds to the complexities of risk management in India, and no government-or opposition-ought need a reminder of its broader responsibilities. In the nuclear era, though, the peace agenda must be a global one, even as the geopolitical matrix gets more complex by the day. Just within South Asia, India faces a challenge that calls for its finest minds: if the talks with India's nuclear-armed neighbour fail to even get to the gate, let alone get past, all the other economic efforts could come to nought in a flash.

It goes without saying that rejecting the good efforts of the recent past would not give the new government any credit. Furthermore, the message must go out loud and clear that, yes, India means business-interpreted as a nationwide quest for prosperity. And, critically, India knows how. Independently.

It is, to a large extent, a mind game. And India is uniquely placed to deploy-with credible coherence-the world's most diverse set of intellectual resources to realise its millennial tryst with destiny.




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