As investment campaigns go, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” brainchild had a launch that was literally out of this world.
The campaign, designed to woo global investors to the country for manufacturing needs, opened on the heels of a successful Mars orbiter mission that not only admitted India to the exclusive club of nations with spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet—only Europe, Russia and the U.S. have done so thus far—but did so at a fraction of the cost of the latest probe from the U.S.
Modi, who swept to electoral victory on promises of more jobs and a rebuilt Indian economy, has a lot of work ahead of him to deliver on those promises. But the successful Mars mission offered a sterling example of how Modi is marketing his homeland to the world.
Mangalyaan, the spacecraft India sent to Mars, not only successfully entered orbit on its first try on Sept. 24, but cost just 11% of the price of the U.S.’s Maven probe. While the U.S. spent $671 million on Maven, which got to Mars only two days before Mangalyaan (Hindi for “Mars craft”), the latter only cost $74 million—a low price tag that exemplifies what Modi is offering to global businesses: a low-cost manufacturing environment. In fact, he touted the mission’s budget as less than the budget for the Hollywood movie Gravity, which starred George Clooney and Sandra Bullock and cost approximately $100 million to make.
However, there’s more to wooing businesses than low labor costs, and Modi will have some headwinds to face. Legal and regulator environments must also be hospitable, and there the country has lagged, including those that worked on the Mars mission, to collaborate with global corporations.
Stil, Modi, in the launch of “Make in India,” which premiered on Sept. 25, is promising that businesses will find a very friendly atmosphere for manufacturing operations, with changes in the works to make it easier for companies to bring projects to India. The government has already relaxed the cap on foreign direct investment in some areas, such as construction, defense and railways.
Modi has also promised infrastructure improvements necessary to enable the success of such projects, something India sorely needs, along with the jobs that could follow a successful campaign. With a population of 1.2 billion, and 13 million young people looking to join the workforce annually, the economy is struggling to provide enough work for enough people to ameliorate its poverty level of 700 million. Modi also touted three reasons investors should be attracted to the country: democratic values, a young and growing demographic and strong demand.
Chinese President Xi Jinping visited India for the first time in mid-September, and announced forthcoming investments of $20 billion in the country—but with tensions still simmering over the Himalayan border between China and India, some in India were not as cheered over the news as they might otherwise have been.
Considerably more enthusiasm has surrounded Modi’s trip to the U.S., which was scheduled to include a speech before the U.N.’s General Assembly and a reportedly sold-out major address at Madison Square Garden but also meetings not just with President Obama and Vice President Biden, but also the heads of numerous major U.S. corporations.