New Delhi — Flanked by some of India's wealthiest businessmen, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a campaign to entice investment and promote the country as the world's next cheap labor economy.
The "Make in India" campaign, complete with a slick web page and a logo depicting a prowling lion, is as much an advertisement as a promise to streamline bureaucracy and become more investor friendly.
"The whole world is ready to come here," Modi said. He portrayed India as offering democratic values, a demographic dividend of a growing and youthful population and strong demand. "If there is any country in the world where all these three things are present, it is India."
The country's 1.2 billion people are anxious for the economy to expand more rapidly. Creating more jobs is a high priority, with some 13 million young Indians joining the workforce each year. There have been recent signs of a pickup in the economy but growth rates remain far below the 8 percent levels achieved over a decade until growth started slumping about two years ago.
For many, a full-time job remains out of reach, and they are left relying on subsidized rice and the government's guarantee to provide work for 100 days a year. More than 700 million Indians still live in poverty and the country's creaky infrastructure is badly in need of updating.
Since becoming prime minister in a landslide election victory four months ago, Modi has been doggedly promoting India as the world's next manufacturing powerhouse. That's a title long held by China, which is now growing wealthier and trying to become a consumer economy.
Modi has also spurred the nation's banks to open no-balance accounts for the poor, making them an official part of the economy and encouraging personal savings. And he has courted foreign companies in Japan, China and other nations, while pushing Indian firms to seek opportunities abroad.
"I want Indian companies to become multinational and to expand their reach to various parts of the world," Modi said at the campaign launch, just hours before departing for the United States where he and President Barack Obama will meet over an agenda that includes boosting business ties.
Businesses leaders praised the Make in India campaign, with tycoons including Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani and Tata Group boss Cyrus Mistry attending the launch event alongside Modi. They urged his government to cut red tape and simplify the taxation regime for companies.
"What is being launched today is actually going to be the next growth driver for India," said ICICI Bank CEO Chanda Kochhar. She said 900,000 manufacturing jobs could be added in the next decade.
The campaign highlights 25 industries including automobiles, information technology, pharmaceuticals, tourism, hospitality and renewable energy. Modi also pledged to simplify regulations that have turned off investors with delays and bureaucratic red tape.