The 7th annual World Hindu Economic Forum (WHEF) began in Mumbai on Friday. The three-day event, being held in India's financial capital for the first time, kicked off with keynote speeches by UP Chief Minister Adityanath, in the presence of industry leaders including Piramal Group's chairman Ajay Piramal, and senior executives from Lockheed Martin US, Tata Sons' defence business and Larsen & Toubro.
The World Hindu Economic Forum has earlier been organised in London, Chicago, Losa Angeles, Hong Kong, and Nairobi. Speaking on the occaision, WHEF founder Swami Vigyananand said that "the liberalised global economy was like a lion and if one wasn't careful, it can swallow you if you make small mistakes". He added that the same could happen to India if 'care is not exercised'.
According to its web site, WHEF was created to bring together financially successful members in Hindu society, to share business knowledge, expertise and resources with their fellow brethren "to trigger the creation of surplus wealth and make society prosperous".
In his opening remarks, Adityanath referred to the Kumbh Mela in his home state of UP which he said was not only a spiritual mela, but also a business event that helped boost the local economy through railway travel, local hotels, eateries and other goods and services.
The forum's officials said that some 24 crore people attended the Kumbh Mela. Adityanath went on to invite foreign businesses to set up shop in UP amidst promises of unbridled support. Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis was also scheduled to speak at the event, but was unable to attend. Other notable attendees, later in the day, included billionaire investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala with the speaker line-up for the rest of the weekend scheduled to include SBI Chairman Rajnish Kumar, Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani, Aditya Birla group chief economist Ajit Ranade, GMR Group chairman GM Rao, film producer Ronnie Screwvala, and Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy.
Ajay Piramal, chairman of the Piramal Group, said it was vital that those creating wealth got the respect they deserved. While wealth creation is an overarching objective of the forum, its officials say they are aware of to the areas of deficiency plaguing the broader Indian economy like the maladies in the banking system for example. "Banking, which is 90 per cent public sector run has been historically guided by political forces and that needs to change and there is no doubt that it needs to be completely free of political interference," said Vigyananand.
Vigyananand said further that taxation needed to be rationalised because if levied out of proportion it could hurt industry and that in turn could hurt the economy. "In regards to increased income taxes, the government is faced with a catch-22 situation, which is to say they have higher expenses and lower tax collections. Of course, the appropriate way of course is to grow with a balanced approach and keep taxes lower and increase them when the economy improves."