Today's Paper

Govt. distancing itself from WEF conference?

NEW DELHI Nov. 24. The Davos-based World Economic Forum's annual India Economic Summit seems to be running out of steam as the political leadership is conspicuous by its absence in the three-day event. Considered a prestigious venue for addressing potential foreign investors and reassuring them of the progress in economic reforms and the bright prospects for the Indian economy, the summit has been abandoned by most of the Cabinet Ministers handling key economic portfolios. This is apart from the fact that the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, declined to deliver the inaugural address and the Finance Minister, Jaswant Singh, is maintaining a discreet distance from the event.

The WEF has made its annual Davos conferences notable for attracting the creme de la creme of global corporate leaders as well as heads of government and key economic Ministers of developed and developing countries who meet and confabulate in an informal retreat setting. The Prime Ministers have attended Davos meets in the past while the Finance Ministers have been regular visitors as part of the drive to attract foreign direct investment.

The WEF has, over the years, extended its conferences to various regions, with the Indian Economic Summit, in collaboration with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), having become an annual affair for the last 18 years. In the past, however, these events stood out by the presence of nearly all the Cabinet Ministers handling economic portfolios, while the inaugural address was usually the preserve of the Prime Minister or the Finance Minister of the day. This time, the former Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram, alone is addressing a session on the prospects of achieving eight per cent growth. And the sole Cabinet Minister with a crucial economic portfolio addressing the conference is the Communications Minister, Pramod Mahajan. Yashwant Sinha, External Affairs Minister and former Finance Minister, will be voicing his views on the geo-political scenario while the other Cabinet Minister to participate is the Tourism and Culture Minister, Jagmohan.

The question being asked by those participating in the conference is whether the Government's absence signifies its disinterest in economic reforms. Does the controversy over disinvestment mean that the political leadership is not keen on expressing its views on these issues at a forum where foreign investors are present? Is the deliberate withdrawal from the event an indicator that reforms are no longer high on the Government's agenda, though Mr. Jaswant Singh reiterated their importance at last week's G-20 meeting?