India Up for Sale as Modi Offers National Icons to Plug Deficit

After years of small divestments, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has launched India’s biggest-ever asset sale, a $29 billion privatization drive that would help prop up the economy but could also spark worker protests as some of the nation’s corporate icons go on the block.

Faced with the highest unemployment in 45 years and a shadow-banking crisis that’s crippling lending, Modi needs the money to plug a budget hole and fund spending on infrastructure and reforms. But the plan has roused a storm of protest, even among some of his supporters, over how far he will pursue a policy that could jeopardize millions of livelihoods and dismantle entities that have been a source of pride for citizens in the decades since independence.

“The breadth of the sale program is intended to signal that it is driven by the government’s reformist tendencies rather than just fiscal needs,” said Eswar Prasad, a professor at Cornell University. “A key question is whether Modi is willing to use some of his political capital to push through the privatization and related reforms” to the financial system, labor markets and infrastructure, Prasad said.…

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