The hindu pantheon of gods has no shortage of deities with multiple arms. India’s government, with a hand in industries from energy and steel to finance and travel, would fit right in. A long infatuation with central planning transformed state-run business into a sprawling industrial empire encompassing 5% of the economy. But acquiring appendages is easier than managing them. Profits as a percentage of revenues are just over 1% at state-run companies, compared with 7-9% for the private sector. Many are a loss-making burden on the public purse—more family lead than family silver.

In 2016 the Indian government under the then newish administration of Narendra Modi reviewed the 331 firms under central-government control. It prepared a list of 28 that it believed could be sold without controversy. The most prominent were Air India, the flag carrier, steel- and cement-makers, big energy companies, a hotel operator and an assortment of entities whose time had passed, such as Scooters India (which last produced a scooter in 1997).