Funding may not be the only reason why political parties are engaging with movers and shakers of India Inc ahead of the Lok Sabha election. Besides hitting the road for their high-pitched rallies, politicians cutting across the party lines have been busy feeling the pulse of industry, a source in the know said.
While interactions with businesses pick up before every election, this time the focus is on one-on-one meetings with people who matter, according to an industry insider. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders including Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari are learnt to have spoken to top India Inc representatives about various issues. Congress, too, has stepped up its outreach to big business groups significantly.
From the Congress camp, party President Rahul Gandhi, former prime minister Manmohan Singh and leaders including Kamal Nath, P Chidambaram and Ghulam Nabi Azad have met some of the influential names in business. The conversation has been around the state of business and the country.
This is part of a pre-poll exercise to understand the overall mood of voters, a political analyst said. Such interactions also help political parties in getting inputs for their election manifestos and enable them to tweak the narrative of their campaigns and speeches sometimes, he said.
In the foreword to the Congress manifesto, for instance, Rahul Gandhi has said the party has used every tool — from social media to personal interactions — to prepare the document. The party held 121 consultations with public and 53 with experts including farmers, entrepreneurs, economists, students, teachers, doctors, lawyers and others across 60 locations in 24 states and three union territories, according to the manifesto. NRI representatives were also tapped across 12 countries, it noted.
While it’s true that businesses can give a direction to politicians on the economy of the country, pre-poll interactions mostly revolve around funding, sources in the know pointed out.
The need for funds has increased many times more from the previous election, they said. Sumit Mazumder, former president of the CII, agreed that funding is the most important subject ahead of an election. He added that it’s the same around the world as ‘’funds are needed when you want to win elections and I see nothing wrong in it’’.
Milan Vaishnav, Director and Senior Fellow, South Asia Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, had recently told this newspaper that it is nearly impossible to gauge how much corporates are spending in 2019, but the conventional wisdom is that overall election spending this year will probably hit $7-8 billion, which is up from an estimated $5 billion in 2014. As for interactions for reasons other than funding of election, Mazumder said, ‘’politicians do want to know the facts of the ground from the industry’’. Also, there are concerns around the state of economy and it’s important for political leaders to get a direct feel of what the industry thinks about it, according to Naushad Forbes, co-chairman at Forbes Marshall. So, in a sense political outreach to India Inc gives leaders a good understanding of the economy, he said. And, that helps in the election season