The Davos Special

Can Modi turn Indian manufacturing's whimper turn into a roar?

An on-the-ground account from the World Economic Forum's annual meeting at Davos

It’s a little over 3 PM, but the chill is numbing as I make my way to Café Schneider, the oldest coffee house in Davos — the highest city in Europe located 5,000 feet above sea level, where life goes on as usual at zero and sub-zero degrees. Tucked away in one corner of the promenade, it’s quite easy to miss the café — in existence since 1915 — as your eyes wander towards the picturesque snow-clad mountains that seem to overwhelm this cosy little mountain resort, which also served as the backdrop of Thomas Mann’s masterpiece The Magic Mountain.

But unlike the novel’s protagonist, Hans Castorp, who comes to Davos on a three-week visit to meet his ailing cousin (and ends up staying for seven years), I am among the 500-odd journalists covering the world’s biggest annual congregation of business leaders, politicians and policymakers. Now in its 45th year, the World Economic Forum has been holding its annual jamboree in Davos since 1971, barring in 2002 when the four-day affair was held in New York in a show of solidarity following the 9/11 terror attack.

In Davos, it’s quite common for cafes and shops around the Congress Centre — the venue of the WEF meeting — to rent out a part of their premises to delegations — either from a company or a country — interested in holding business or trade talks on the sidelines of the summit. For some years now, Café Schneider has been the Indian contingent’s favourite.

Previously called the India Adda under the erstwhile UPA’s tenure, the new BJP government chose to rebrand it as the Make in India lounge, to promote PM Narendra Modi’s clarion call from the ramparts of the Red Fort last August, urging MNCs to set up manufacturing units in India. On its part, the India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), under the aegis of the commerce ministry, did its job of tom-tomming the Make in India campaign through catchy posters that featured lion silhouettes in vibrant colours representing different sectors. Posters that read ‘Whatever you want to make, make in India’ and ‘From satellites to submarines, from pharma to biotech’ were plastered across the street leading to the café and on local buses plying through the city.

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