Prime Minister Narendra Modi, wrapping up his Russia visit on a high, on Saturday reaffirmed India’s commitment to reducing carbon emission under the Paris Climate Change accord, as he invited global businesses to invest in the world’s fastest growing economy, saying “sky is the limit” for them.
In a speech at an economic forum, and in a subsequent question-and-answer session, Modi made his case forcefully to frequent applause, as he touched on subjects as diverse as relations with China, terrorism, Donald Trump, the Vedas and the power of youth.
He cleverly ducked a question from the moderator, U.S. TV network NBC anchor Megyn Kelly on whether he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that Russia was not involved in influencing U.S. election results through hacking.
“You have been talking at length about leaders like President Trump, Hillary Clinton, Chancellor Merkel and President Putin. Among such big leaders, I don’t think, you need a lawyer like me,” Modi said, to laughter and applause from an audience of several hundred at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum that included the Russian president sitting next to him.
The annual event was held at the sprawling conference center on the outskirts of St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city and Putin’s hometown. On Friday, Modi and Putin held a summit, and signed several agreements including a critical one to build two more reactors of a nuclear plant in Tamil Nadu with Russia’s help.
Modi’s reply on hacking was the only moment that approached light-heartedness in his otherwise intense pitch for investment that was matched by terse replies by Putin on a range of prickly subjects such as Syria, his relationship with Trump, his support for Syrian leader Bashar Assad, U.S. sanctions against Russia and growing income inequity in Russia.
Modi also sidestepped a question on which side he stood after Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Change accord. In his reply, he quoted the Vedas to say that harming the environment is a crime, and milking nature is the right of the humans.
“I have in simple ways stated a dream of new India. I have quoted from 5000-year-old Vedas to say that humans have a right to milk nature but have no right to exploit nature,” he said, speaking in Hindi interspersed with English phrases.
Modi said he was asked a similar question in Germany earlier this week, before the US decision was made public. At the time, Modi said, he had replied “Paris or no Paris, it is our conviction that we have no right to snatch from our future generation their right to have a clean and beautiful earth.” His speech earlier, however, was almost entirely devoted to attracting foreign investment.
He invited global businesses to invest in India, saying its market of 120 crore people provides vast opportunities from agriculture to defense, while being protected by political stability and a ‘vibrant’ judicial system.
“The sky is the limit in India. You can venture here in any area you want (to do business),” said Modi, the first prime minister of India to attend the SPIEF forum, which is held annually in St. Petersburg. Modi said that his government’s journey toward developing India is built on investments in infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing and services.
“Fifty cities need metros, 500 cities need solid waste management and drinking water. Besides, India has the world’s second largest railway network. It needs to be expanded, upgraded technologically to make it safer and reliable. The clean India movement has embarked on a program to clean the 2,500 kilometer long Ganga,” Modi said.
All this provides immense opportunities for investment, he said. The market is open even for defence manufacturing, tourism, hospitality and medical devices. “I invite you all. A nation of 1.2 billion people invites the world. The world’s oldest civilization invites you all,” he said.
He said that in the last three years since he came to power, India has attracted $160 billion of foreign investment including $60 billion, the highest ever, in the last financial year.
When pressed for comments on the US withdrawing from trade deals, Modi said, “India believes in open economy. It has taken all decisions in that direction.”
He added that in an era of globalisation, “we should help each other as much as we can. It will be better.”