India Inc has been remarkably silent about the country’s economic growth, which has been plunging ever since prime minister Narendra Modi decided to demonetise high-value currency notes in 2016.

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh wrote in The Hindu newspaper on Nov. 18 that the environment of fear had broken the trust in Indian society, and this was the main reason for the slowdown.

“Many industrialists tell me that they live in fear of harassment by government authorities,” wrote Singh, an eminent economist who ushered India into globalisation. “The premise of the government’s policy framework seems to be that economic participants have mala-fide intent unless they can prove otherwise… A nation’s state of the economy is also a reflection of the state of its society.”

Reiterating his point, Singh said in a recent speech, “The state of our economy is deeply worrying. But today I will argue how the state of our society is even more worrisome and that is a fundamental reason for the precarious state of our economy.”

Industrialist Harsh Goenka of RPG Enterprises described Singh’s comments as “valid points” but later deleted his tweet.

Spreading fear

Goenka’s retreat on social media is just one of the many ways corporate silencing operates.

On Nov. 29, even as GDP growth in the September quarter fell below 5%, for the first time in around seven years, India’s largest industry body, the Confederation of Indian Industry, did not even issue a perfunctory statement of concern.

Similarly, Bajaj’s comment was not the big news in the pink paper that organised the award ceremony. The headline instead focused on Amit Shah’s reply to the industrialist.

Another instance of how corporate India was silenced was when the CEO of Cafe Coffee Day retail chain committed suicide in July this year. In his suicide note, VG Siddhartha blamed his company’s liquidity crunch and mounting debt crisis on “harassment” by income tax authorities who had attached the company shares. While the tax authorities denied the accusation, it was widely seen as an example of “tax terrorism.”

At the time, Mazumdar-Shaw had spoken up against tax terrorism, and soon got a call from a government official. The official, whom Shaw did not name, had allegedly said, “Please don’t make such statements. Even (Infosys’s former chief financial officer and investor) Mohandas Pai should not. I am telling you as a friend.” Ironically, Mohandas Pai is a vocal supporter of the Modi government.

Mazumdar-Shaw felt the call was both advice and warning. Pai went on to claim that “lots of people get such threats.”

The indisciplined anti-national

Tax terrorism and “friendly” phone calls are only two ways in which the Indian industry is intimidated into silence. There’s regulatory arbitrage, the long arm of the law, and the politicisation of economic investigative agencies such as the enforcement directorate.

When all else fails, there’s social media. Even as pro-establishment trolls ran a smear campaign against Rahul Bajaj on social media, top ministers, too, tweeted against his comments.

Sitharaman used the familiar trope of branding government critics as anti-national,

Housing and urban affairs minister Hardeep Singh Puri, too, tweeted: “There are societies in the world which are governed by fear, but a society where citizens can weave fake narratives & hurl invectives at the govt cannot be classified as one governed by fear, it is a society characterised by fair dose of indiscipline.”

And we know what happens to the indisciplined. The nationalists come and discipline them. Rahul Bajaj was right: criticism won’t be taken kindly. He had concluded his comments at the ceremony saying his industry peers were happy to see him sacrifice himself.

We welcome your comments at

📬 Sign up for the Daily Brief

Our free, fast, and fun briefing on the global economy, delivered every weekday morning.