First there was anxiety, then nervousness, then relief. But on many fronts no news was good news from finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman as she presented her fourth Budget. Middle class wanted tax concessions but silently feared higher taxes; the rich were nervous about an even greater tax burden but truly dreaded the wealth tax and inheritance tax; the sin sector may have stopped complaining of higher tax incidence but braced up for the worst; and crypto investors wanted regulatory clarity but were most afraid of a complete ban. Budget 2022 neither fanned the expectations nor proved the fears right.
Instead FM Sitharaman re-emphasised the government’s conviction in India’s unique supply-side stimulus as opposed to nearly all global economies which adopted the Keynesian demand-led stimulus. With the twin engines of private consumption and private investment refusing to fire all of 2021, and the third engine ‘goods exports’ barely hobbling back to 2013-14 level, the government had to do all the heavy-lifting to keep the economy going via the fourth engine of public expenditure. The 35.4% enhancement in government’s capital expenditure and a host of other measures in Budget 2022 proved that the Centre is convinced about its contrarian call to support the economy via supply-side initiatives such as liquidity enhancement and large-scale infrastructure development. This is in sharp contrast with most world economies that transferred cash to their businesses and individuals to help trigger consumption. It didn’t work.
Economists now reluctantly acknowledge the sanity India’s supply-side stimulus brings to the government’s finances via controlled deficit. Especially, vis-a-vis the balance sheet busting sops in the West. Read our Budget Special package.
The cover story this issue, though, is the quest to win the next frontier in India’s booming digital economy — the SuperApp. Clouded in secrecy, some of India’s biggest conglomerates, e-tailers, banks and aggregators are vying for a projected $800 billion market over the next 7-8 years. Reliance Industries, Tata group, Adani, SBI, Paytm, ITC, Amazon, Flipkart, Kotak Bank are all in the race to create that all-inclusive consumer experience in a single App. It would be the one-stop shop for every consumer need — from shopping, payments, banking to e-learning, e-medicine, socials, games, travel, music, news & entertainment. Capturing high-frequency usage and the consumer wallet. China’s WeChat and Indonesia’s Go-Jek are some of the greatest exponents of successful SuperApps — a term coined by Blackberry founder Mike Lazaridis. Read Team Fortune India’s account of the SuperApp gold rush.
Ever since Covid played havoc with the country’s travel and tourism industry, Ajay Singh, maverick entrepreneur and twice-owner of India’s third-largest airline SpiceJet has struggled through the past two years. While a strategic entry into the aviation cargo and logistics business has kept the company afloat, SpiceJet’s troubles seem far from over. As the economy gets set to open up, the airline faces rising costs and stiff competition. It needs a fresh bout of capital but most importantly it needs several strategic interventions. Singh has a plan, including hiving off cargo business into a separate entity, but will it work? Anjuli Bhargava examines the great effort to resurrect SpiceJet.