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Reviving Investment is Key, Says Man Tipped to Be India’s Finance Minister

Jaitley, a senior leader of India's main opposition BJP, arrives to pay homage at the Jallianwala Bagh memorial in Amritsar

New Delhi – Massaging his swollen feet after campaigning in the villages of Punjab, the man tipped to be India’s next finance minister says he wants the government that takes office next month to approve five big-ticket investments quickly to signal it means business. Arun Jaitley is a senior leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), hot favorite to form a government after the election that began last week and will be staggered over the next month. A former commerce minister and a skilled courtroom lawyer, he is a key lieutenant of Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi, the BJP’s candidate for prime minister.

Jaitley has dismissed as premature talk that he will take a senior position in government, but in an interview with Reuters he gave what he said were personal views on the economy. “You will have to re-start the investment cycle,” he said, speaking after a day on the stump in the parliamentary constituency he is contesting, Amritsar, in the northern state of Punjab.

“You will have to, both in terms of policies and procedure, give an impression that it’s now easy to do business in India. You make five big clearances, some big-ticket clearances.” Jaitley did not disclose what projects might be fast-tracked, but said one proposal was to involve state chief ministers in such clearances instead of leaving it to the central government.

Capital investment contributes nearly 35 percent to India’s $1.8 trillion economy, but it barely grew in the fiscal year that ended in March as delays in clearances from various ministries and funding issues grounded many major projects. Growth in Asia’s third-largest economy has almost halved to below 5 percent in the past two years on weak investment and consumer demand, the worst slowdown since the 1980s.

The BJP blames the slide on poor economic management by the outgoing government led by the left-leaning Congress party. Modi, who has presided over rapid economic growth during more than 12 years as chief minister of Gujarat state, has been wooing voters by pointing to his track record as a leader who cuts red tape and attracts investment. “I think a political change itself will restore confidence in the first instance,” said Jaitley, when asked how the economic climate could be changed. (Reuters)

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