Notes from Davos: India first!

Author - Ajay Khanna

Published By:The Economic Times
Posted on:May 21, 2022

Notes from Davos: India first!

This year may well be the “India Everywhere” moment again. Not only is India part of the global conversation, especially given its willingness to engage in pressing challenges to the world, India’s participation may be the third largest at the orld Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos. Officially, 99 Indian delegates have registered with the WEF for the event. I believe this is an undercount, especially if you include the large group of non-badge holder Indians and NRIs who turn up every year and the oicials accompanying the delegations from six state governments plus CII, Invest India, Indian Embassy Teams. Take them all together and my guess is you are talking about 400-500 Indians.

To ensure that India gets maximum mileage of goodwill from this happy convergence of circumstances, the government undertook some planning. It convened a prep meeting chaired by Commerce and Industry minister Piyush Goyal on May 19. It was attended by Chief Ministers, Ministers and oicials of the state governments, industry representatives and the Confederation of Indian Industry. The mission was very simple: speak in one voice.

Under the “India First” Campaign, India @ 75 is the theme for this year to celebrate Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav at Davos. An excellent brieng note has been prepared and sent to all Indian delegation covering key talking points on economy by CII.

Besides the commerce minister, other Cabinet ministers who will be travelling to Davos are Hardeep Puri (Petroleum and Urban Development) and Mansukh Mandaviya (Health & Chemicals & Fertilizers). The delegation also includes N K Singh, chairman of the 15th Finance Commission, Amitabh Kant, CEO, Niti Aayog and Anurag Jain, Secretary, DPIIT.

Indian Addas!

The state governments’ participation is a record number this year. Four southern states--Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Telangana (how come Kerala missed out!)--and Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh will be led by either the Chief Minister or a cabinet minister. First time I notice that four Indian states--Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh (who says there is no bi-partisan consensus) --have come together on the Promenade, (the mall road of Davos) to host a common lounge. Telangana and Karnataka though have opted for their own lounges.

The India lounge, hosted jointly by DPIIT, Invest India and CII, is where it used to be good old days: Café NSE -6.60 %. During the now famous ‘India Everywhere’ campaign in 2006, this was called the Indian Adda (sharing a photo of Indian adda from 2011 when President Clinton dropped by)

India Inc

CII, a WEF partner, will be led by its new President, Sanjiv Bajaj, another Davos regular like his late father. In addition, the crème de la crème of India Inc--Mukesh Ambani, Gautam Adani, N Chandrasekaran, Sunil Mittal, Pawan Munjal, Shyam Bhartia, Hari Bhartia, Kumar M Birla, Shobana Kamineni, Roshni Nadar Malhotra, Adar C Poonawalla, Rishad Premji, Byju Raveendran, Sumant Sinha to name a few. Some of the rst timers I see from India are Ashish Singhal (CoinSwitch kuber), Shanti Raghavan (Enable India), Pranshu Singhal (karo sambhav) – both winners of NSE 2.07 % Bhartia – Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur Award, Nitin Kamath (Zerodha), Gaurav Mehta (Dharmalife), Ronnie Screwvala (Upgrad) to name a few.

I am delighted to see Sadguru – Founder of Isha Foundation will be back in Davos. Sharing an old picture of Sadguru with me when he went for the rst time. I don’t recall the year any more!

There are several sessions on India or with Indian speakers. This is huge and a welcome change from say just two decades ago when every business speaker from India included in the main programme, was a cause for celebration. The India oriented initiatives include one on climate action.

This is over and above several parallel India focused sessions lined up by CII, Invest India and State governments.

The Big Picture

Officially, the 51 st Annual Meeting (53 rd if you include the last two virtual ones) begins on Sunday. It is for the rst time ever the annual meeting is being held in this Ski resort in summer.

About 2,500 global leaders are expected to converge for the rst in-person meeting after the once in a century pandemic struck the world two years ago. The 300 government representatives listed as delegates, include more than 50 heads of state and in addition, you have 300 public gures and 782 speakers representing 1,754 organizations from all over the world.

I believe there are around 100 unicorns, innovators and Tech pioneers over 50 social entrepreneurs (now called innovators), 48 young global leaders (less than 40 years’ old), 69 global shapers (under 30) and 41 civil society representatives. More than 200 leaders from NGO’s, academics, labor organizations and faith-based and religious groups representing civil society; this is over and above the 400 media leaders and reporting persons who will converge in Davos over the weekend.

Spotlight on Ukraine

Given the stand of the western world on the ongoing conict it is only natural for the WEF to give a big shoutout to embattled Ukraine.

Accordingly, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine will deliver a special address on Monday. This plenary session, in the main congress hall, will be chaired by Prof Klaus Schwab and the President is likely to join virtually. Beyond the showstopper, several other heads of state and government will be present. This includes the Emir of Qatar, President of European Commission, Federal Chancellor of Germany, Prime Ministers of Spain and Greece, Secretary General of NATO, President of Israel.

Answering Trolls

One perception of this annual rendezvous of global heavy hitters is that it is a wanton and lavish gathering of the rich. And that precious little of global use came out of these meetings.

A paper published on the blogs of the London School of Economics argues that indeed it is no longer a cozy, incestual club of “out-of-touch (man), someone who insulated himself from ordinary people and those who think dierently”.

The authors, Shawn Pope and Patrica Bromley, trawled through a trove of press releases issued by the WEF for the last eight years to argue that the WEF has witnessed a pivot and is more inclusive, not just in terms of topics discussed and initiatives under taken, but also in terms of gender. “A nal complaint about Davos Man was that he was full of empty rhetoric. His meeting was derided as an intense, gregarious aair, repeated every year without anything of substance to show for it. Davos Man chats while the world burns. Yet this complaint is ringing less true.

Davos Man is now more action oriented. The WEF has reimagined its annual conference, not as a mere colloquium, but also as a platform for launching initiatives,” the paper said.

In short, the WEF association with the idea of the alienated, rich male—Davos Man—is dead.

More when I land in Davos!

As they say watch this space.