In earlier years, the lines were clear: The World Economic Forum in Davos was globalisers’ go-to meeting. Everyone believed in liberal democracy and trade. What could go wrong? Answer: Just about everything. US President Donald Trump is now informal leader of the anti-globalisation movement. Liberal democracy is on the defensive, pushed back by a populist tide. So, the sombre overtones this time were no surprise.
Its theme, ‘Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World,’ summed up new global priorities and talk revolved around how business could be more socially responsible and environmentally friendly. Blackrock said it was exiting investments with a “high sustainability-related risk” while its chief Larry Fink sported a climate-data themed scarf. Amazingly, even Trump, leaving behind the impeachment drama, signed up to a global pledge to plant a trillion trees. Otherwise, he was a climate change dissenter. Without naming teenage environmentalist Greta Thunberg, he lashed out at the “prophets of doom”. Thunberg, like Banquo’s ghost at Macbeth’s dinner, quietly insisted planting trees wasn’t sufficient and zero emissions must be the goal.
The summit also saw leaders focussing on the need to prepare for the fourth Industrial Revolution. Said KPMG India chairman Arun M Kumar: “The new wave of technology is going to change the nature of work.”
Where did India fit in all this? Two years ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was a star attraction. This time, Commerce Mnister Piyush Goyal led India’s team; CII sent a 100-member delegation; two Chief Ministers — Madhya Pradesh’s Kamal Nath and Karnataka’s BS Yeddurappa — were other delegates. India was under scrutiny, but not for the same positive reasons as in 2018. Billionaire financier George Soros lamented nationalism was making “further headway” globally and said: “the most frightening setback occurred in India where a democratically elected Narendra Modi is creating a Hindu nationalist state… threatening to deprive millions of Muslims of their citizenship.” Soros doesn’t represent all the corporate honchos and global civil servants at Davos. But his worries he’s raising about India are being echoed by others. We need to come up with answers and assuage doubts about India’s economic and political future quickly.
The writer is Editorial Consultant with BusinessLine