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Rediff.com  » Business » 'Selling' India is a pointless business

'Selling' India is a pointless business

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November 20, 2003 11:08 IST

Does Indian industry need to market itself better? After wallowing in a serious inferiority complex for years, opinion within India about India seems to have veered to the other extreme.

Indians consistently undersell their country, businessman after businessman will tell you these days, and now it's time to set right the balance in the world's eyes.

Many politicians will hate to admit it, but much of this new-found confidence stems from economic liberalisation -- and the manner in which Indian industry has been able to adjust to the new world order despite vociferous complaints when all of this started over a decade ago.

Today, the protectionist Bombay Club -- which its proponents insist never existed in the first place -- has been replaced by an equally unofficial hard-sell club, and no, it is not necessarily headquartered in Bangalore either.

Certainly, Indian industry has a better story to tell now and, despite all the unfavourable comparisons with China, it is justified in thinking that the world should know more about its transformation from high-cost, inefficient producer to powerhouses of efficiency and lean manufacturing.

But in these jingoistic times, when patriotism tends to override achievement to an alarming degree, it is worth wondering if industry and government are going about the job the right way.

The provocation for this argument are two. One is presentations made by Mukesh Ambani and Kumar Mangalam Birla at the AdAsia symposium in Jaipur last week saying India needed to market its achievements on the lines of Singapore and Malaysia.

The second is the several 'funds,' partly financed by government and private industry, like the India Brand Equity Fund and the corporate governance fund, set up over the past few years.

Exercises such as these make it clear that corporations appear to be hoping for closer cooperation between government and industry of the kind that put South East Asia on the world map, or at least the kind of synchronicity that exists between government and industry in China. The idea is great -- the fashionable term is 'public-private partnership' -- but not the execution.

IBEF is a case in point. It was set up in 1996 with a corpus of Rs 120 crore (Rs 1.2 billion) essentially to give soft loans to exporters to build the 'Made in India' brand overseas. Its record so far has not been noteworthy, so much so that in August this year the commerce ministry invited the Confederation of Indian Industry to participate in the exercise and suggest effective ways to promote the India brand.

The reason IBEF has made little headway is that it is an inadequate effort. No amount of hard-sell can convince buyers to take a 'Made in India' label at face value if the quality and delivery of goods from the country are inconsistent. Businessmen will tell you that quality and consistency are substantially the products of good infrastructure and helpful policies.

Of course, India's IT revolution has proved that that need not necessarily be the case, since it has flourished despite the crippling lack of power and, initially at least, telecom facilities (as has the diamond processing industry).

Still, it would be fair to say that, despite reform, the biggest hurdles Indian business still faces is government -- either at the Centre and more so in the states. That is why, any marketing exercise of the kind Mr Birla and Mr Ambani talk about, sporadic private-public initiatives or even IBEF are a waste of time and effort.

What industry needs is something almost exactly like Miti (which stands for Ministry of Trade and Industry): an all-encompassing organisation that bolsters industry's efforts with useful economic diplomacy and synchronised policy to provide an environment within which investment and export can take place at optimum efficiency.

Utopian? If Japan, Malaysia and Singapore, all countries with almost no economic resources at the end of World War II, can achieve this, it is hard to see why India, with its embarrassment of natural and intellectual riches, cannot.

All three countries are democracies and those who suggest that Singapore and Malaysia were less so should also consider that both its architects, Lee Kuan Yew and Mahathir Mohamad, were far from unpopular leaders.

At any rate, an exercise of this kind would probably yield more useful results in terms of improving India's image abroad than any marketing exertion, no matter how expensive.

Of course, since much of the exercise in India involves reversing policy of five decades with all its attendant political ramifications, success will be far slow. But eventually, efficiency needs no hard sell.

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Kanika Datta
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