Participate in the Political Narrative

Many look at businesses and businesspeople with a pair of binoculars – constantly living in denial about their roles in everyday life. Maybe it has to do with India’s initial brush with a socialist and protective economy, which made only a few business houses call the shots. The gap between the haves and have-nots, for most part of the last century was huge; and the gaping hole could be made lesser only with liberalisation that took place in the early 1990s. With that, India’s voice as a business destination and the rise of our bourses, made everyone across the globe stand up and take notice.

However, the relationship between businesses and the common man was still pretty cold. The former would look at the latter in a patronizing way. While the latter was only happy receiving from the businesses, and wishing their presence away in any other form.

With company law making CSR compulsory, businesses finally, had to come on the same page as the citizens. And there is bound to be more exchange also due to the intrusive and interfacial nature of social media. The gap between the two classes is narrowing – slowly but surely.

With election dates for the state assembly waiting to be announced one of these days, it is interesting how politicians and their parties look at businesses. Most look for funding. Period.

But what is not funny is how businesses and their guilds look at politicians. Many trade and commerce bodies are very pro-establishment. Nothing wrong with that in normal times! But when the state or country is going through a rough financial patch, these trade guilds talk a language very different to the one that is spoken by their members in private, or by the man on the street. The common statement made in defense of this approach is to say “We are in business. It’s best not to ruffle feathers.” Worse still, “We have always believed in working closely with the government.”

If this is the case, then why would any government feel the need to introspect on its decisions? It is not that governments are immune to making mistakes. Isn’t it the job of business guilds to bring these mistakes before their elected members?

Recently, I heard that a few newly formed political parties wanted to meet members of trade bodies to understand the needs and demands of the industry. Not surprisingly, there was general opposition to meeting with these parties. Maybe the denial to hold dialogue was because the parties, new as they are, have never been in power or in positions of influence.

But having said that, I feel business persons hugely undervalue the weight of their opinion and prefer to let such opportunities of dialogue pass. Businesses play a key role in running the economy, and also because they create jobs.

These days, a leading mining corporation has been having problems with their labour union leadership. And some people wish the intervention of the Chief Minister in the matter. There have been many occasions where influential politicians have had to step in to break a deadlock between trade unions and management. So why do we look at politicians only during such instances of stalemates and impasses? Why don’t businesses indulge in continuous dialogues with them? Why is it imperative to keep them in good humour and not address inconvenient truths to them?

It is different when an individual expresses his ire or is critical of state decisions. Many a times, s/he gets reduced to a minority and the questions raised don’t receive their desired importance. But if a trade body speaks up, it can make a difference to the political and economic narrative of a state/nation. Maybe we should speak up more often on topics of socio-economic importance. There should be more inclusive character to our politics.

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