Waiting for Kalki - I
The Economic Times - April 2002
But then India has always been about mixed verdicts. Talk to a lot of business people, and the cynical will tell you "this is the end, send your children out of the country there is no future here". The more pragmatic will draw attention to examples of pockets of peace and prosperity defined either by business segments or geographic pockets or select companies. As always, everything you say of India, the opposite is also true. Economic and political diversity is increasing between states, and there is every combination of economic performance, political ideology, and business friendliness existing. Even within states there are oases and deserts. Ask any sales manager in any business to analyse the business and he will confirm it. So that's the first clue to surviving the short term. Waiting for Kalki in the form of 8% or more high quality growth which will bring universal salvation is pointless. The growth strategy going forward for the domestic market will not be about big, bold, universal, life changing moves to grow across the board. Rather it will be about managing a diverse bundle of activities designed for small, local pockets, with distinct market and consumer characteristics, and aggregating the results of those to get to respectable top line growth. The sources of sustenance will be different. Every year new economic, man made and natural disasters strike in different parts of the country and have different cycles of demand depression and recovery. The current market management paradigm that most companies use is to develop a macro market demand stimulation strategy and then allocate the implementation effort and resources across micro markets based on the market potential. It is now time to move to micro market demand stimulation, to carefully and continuously identify oases in the desert and specifically target them.
Companies need to enrich the consumer base if they have to achieve growth ambitions that are in excess of the natural growth in consumer purchasing power. The more progressive companies are already partnering with the more receptive state governments to investing in improving consumers' lives to enable them to earn more to consume more - this is not about corporate social consciences and supportive governments, but about enlightened self interest for both. There is a win-win here for government and business, and Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are showing the way. Activities cover design and implementation of a wide range of programs aimed at increasing income levels or improving those factors which influence demand (more working taps in villages does mean more baths!). Other partnership models include the quid pro quo of relaxed regulations / lowering taxes in exchange for project management skills to drive vote improving development projects, which may not have a direct impact on demand for the company's products. Certainly better than the quid pro quo model of money in exchange for privileges. The fact is that no single political party controls more than half of the states that count, and therefore there are several combinations of ethics and ideology and business friendliness to choose from.
And now for some less obvious enlightened self interest. Whose business is it to ensure that Gujarat does not become a model that is replicated across the country, and that communal violence is contained? Most business people tell me that it is the Government's business. But waiting for the Central Government to act is like waiting for Kalki to arrive. In fact, there is a view that the BJP has now strengthened its 'brand positioning' significantly, by reinforcing its 'USP', and that the brand proposition is not just unique but a selling one too. But like everything in India, I feel there is a mixed verdict here too. I would like corporate India to undertake a 'shape public opinion and develop community based mechanisms to contain social unrest' activity (which incidentally is quite different and more actionable than a 'promote communal harmony' initiative). It is a universal truth that parents do not want the physical and economic security of their children to be jeopardised. Rather than try and organise this under an industry association banner (which is also like waiting for Kalki), the workable model would be for each company to strategize and implement this activity anywhere and in any way they feel fit. As discussed earlier, it is time for many micro level interventions to add up. Business people keep insisting that this is not the business of business. But isn't taking care of things that affect business the business of business?