Bridge India

India’s First Rate Performance at the Hannover Fair

This week, Germany was steeped in Indian colors. At the Hannover Fair, India made excellent use of the opportunity of being the official partner country and present itself favorably to a global business community.

  • India’s presentation at the fair was cool and exciting
  • Modi finds the right language and understands investor concerns
  • The international business community is ready to move, but expects more policy measures

India was all the buzz in Germany: at the airport and at the train station in Berlin, I was greeted by bright “Make in India” posters. As I drove up to the Hannover Fair – the world’s largest industrial fair to which India was this year’s official partner country – there were bright flags and imposing towers and more posters highlighting various aspects of India’s economy. Investors are invited to join in the big India story in friendly, optimistic, and exciting designs.

The most inspiring stall at the fair was the official “Make in India” stall: It was a very cool, colourful, open showcase of India’s plans and capabilities in sectors like automotive. energy, urbanization, defence, or chemicals. The stall was flanked by many more, smaller stalls from companies and individual Indian states with their own investment slogans. The well-known “Vibrant Gujarat”, was joined by “Emerging Himachal” or the more low key “Credible Chattisgarh”. Very senior bureaucrats from the states were out there, engaging at ease with anyone interested. There were Indian businessmen and a few women all around. Some of the German companies even dressed up their rather teutonic looking staff in turbans and sarees in a nod to the partner country.

Prime Minister Modi and German Chancellor Merkel gave talks – in english – on the opportunity that India presents for the world. Modi was cheered like a rockstar by hundreds of mostly Indian visitors as he left the conference hall. There was a palpable sense of optimism around him.

As far as communication and marketing go – both very important tasks for investment promotion – this was a first rate performance. This matters, because the execution excellence gives the “India” brand a credibility that it previously lacked and draws serious interest.

The general mood amongst the international business community was one of cautious optimism: there is a recognition that the government is working on key legislative reforms (land, tax, electricity) and that it is very responsive to investors. Many businessmen appreciate these efforts, and the fact that Modi’s government is talking the right language.

In the CEO round of the Indo-German Business Summit, which followed Modi’s and Merkel’s statements, it became clear that the reality of doing business in India has not yet caught up with the visions and ideas. Joe Kaeser, the slightly quirky CEO of Siemens said that they look to the implementation: “From ‘Make in India’ to ‘Make it happen in India’, one step at a time”. Cyrus Mistry, the Tata CEO, concurred. My discussions with Indian and international businessmen at the fair were mostly in tune: the outlook is positive, but there has not yet been a discernible uptick in on-ground business results.

The Indian government seems to recognize that. It wants to encourage more transparency and competition amongst Indian states by asking them to regularly publish a scorecard on the “ease of doing business” along 100+ criteria. That sounds like a good idea (and one the EU or even Germany would do well to copy).

Overall, India’s presentation at the fair was an excellent sales pitch. And that, after all, is the main purpose of fairs. If delivery now follows, there is a real chance for a step-change in Indian growth and development.

Tobias Engelmeier is the Founder and Director of BRIDGE TO INDIA

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