“Turmoil” Nadu needs a Naidu!!!

The once prodigious state of Tamil Nadu (TN) has in the past few weeks earned a pitiable sobriquet of “Turmoil Nadu” and not without reason.  The state has been in a state of incapacitation ever since it’s Ex- Chief Minister the late Jayalalitha, was herself bed ridden for multiple health problems around the same time, last year. From then on, TN has been limping from one crisis to another. If it was uncertainty over Jayalalitha’s survival for few months since September, it was the crisis of her death in December for few weeks followed by the now done and dusted Jallikattu controversy in January.

When one thought that “Thai piranthaal Vazhi Pirakkum”, it is was the “Amma” of all leadership wrangles which ensued, resulting in the unceremonious exit of O. Panneer Selvam (OPS) as Chief Minister. The subsequent sentencing of Sasikala, the 24*7 resort drama that followed and the many heart to heart discussions various leaders had with the soul of Jayalalitha at her Samadhi consumed the state for few more weeks till Edapadi Pazhanisamy (EPS) was installed as Chief Minister. When one thought that the worst for the state was over, then came the cancellation of the bye election in R.K. Nagar constituency following brazen distribution of cash even at the peak of Demonetisation!

For political parties, fishing in troubled waters comes easily. BJP at the centre has been no exception in fishing in TN’s muddled waters. With the spectre of a drought looming large, this fishing expeditions so far have not yielded much results. Yet, it has not stopped the BJP from trying. Throwing the hat into the circus ring or rather posturing to throw have been two ageing star actors – Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, who of late have found the voice to raise against the not so new ills of TN. As I write this, it is yet uncertain if these will remain dress rehearsals sans a final stage performance! In the meantime, there has been coming together of the OPS & EPS camps while isolating the Mannargudi camp which has been camping in one of the resorts in Pondichery. Or may be Coorg. Or is it Kerala?  With the judiciary intervening almost on a daily basis on conducting a floor test, on disqualification of the defectors and generally everything, one can be certain that the state is in Coma and governance in suspended animation!

The Tamil Nadu I grew up was never like this. Even today, in spite of the lack of any meaningful governance, the state does still rank high on many social indices. But this is living in past glory and milking the once healthy cow.  The seeds for today’s rot have been systematically sown by the two Dravida parties who have been ruling the state alternatively since the death of MGR. To be fair, till the beginning of this century, things were not bad.  Almost ten years ago, a foreign visitor after visiting few states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, UP, the then AP, and in the end TN asked me why things were looking better in TN compared to the other states. And like all Indians who never say “I don’t know” to any subject on the earth, I gave my own theory. Which was that TN was the only state where the economy was quite balanced between Agriculture (Rice), Manufacturing (Auto, Textiles and small machinery) and Services (SW). Unlike other states even when growing well, the growth was not balanced between the sectors and hence created its own problems. For example, Karnataka had a high share of Services and less of Manufacturing while Punjab had a high share of Agri and Industry but less of Services. But if I look at the statistics today, this is indeed the case for TN and this has certainly ensured a very equitable growth in the state and no other state comes close to this balance.

Again, what TN is today is a result of some far-sighted thinking in the 70’s and 80’s by the then Governments. In the last decade or so, the state has been drifting away. While TN has been sleeping and slipping, the other states have been catching up. And this catching up has happened mainly due to some strong political leadership in each of these states. The neigbouring state of Andhra Pradesh ever since its bifurcation has seen some frenzied action. Both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are fiercely competing today to garner investments. And in the age of competitive federalism, one state’s gain is another state’s loss. When Kia Motors (a subsidiary of Hyundai Motors) decided to set up a new manufacturing facility they opted for Penukonda (Anantapur) in Andhra Pradesh. It is heard that the Chief Minster Chandrababu Naidu took personal effort in bagging the project for his state and ensuring painless and swift land acquisition. In his weekly Swaminomics column, Swaminathan Aiyar once hailed the AP model of land acquisition for developing the capital city of Amaravati as an ideal model for other states to follow. He wrote that “Other states must study Naidu’s example, and adapt pooling for their own use.”

In Telangana, K.T.Rama Rao, its IT minister and son of the Chief Minister, has been in the forefront of attracting investments in the IT sector. In my own resident state Maharashtra, the young and dynamic Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is focused on making Maharashtra the most sought after destination for manufacturing again. And he already has a few early wins. Among his other plans are big bang infrastructure projects like Mumbai – Nagpur Express way,… In Rajasthan, its Chief Minister Vasundara Raje has been the flag bearer for labour reforms for the entire country.

In the midst of such action, what has been TN up to?  Plunged in a serious leadership crisis ever since Jayalalitha went to jail in 2014, TN has been just a torch-bearer for sycophancy saddled between MGR/Amma anachronisms on the one hand and OPS/EPS/TTV acronyms on the other. So, for “Turmoil” Nadu to regain its past glory and become a “Thalai” Nadu once again, its needs a Naidu like leader! ASAP. No, as of yesterday!  Do you have any picks? I have none at the moment.

Cartoon courtesy: Surendran/The Hindu

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Governance Delivered – By 140 characters!!!

“EPFO plans to hire social media agency”EPFO

This news bit resembling a 140 character tweet appearing somewhere in a corner in today’s Indian Express caught my attention and set the tone for my this week’s blog post. Has social media in general and Twitter in particular become so important a tool today for delivering Governance? Though our PM Narendra Modi has been in the forefront in using social media as an important medium for direct communication even before he became the PM, it’s only now (may be an year or so) since we started seeing other Ministers on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Apart from the Ministers themselves, we are now seeing even official accounts of Ministries, Secretaries and other key officials.

It’s a fact that Indian politicians except a few like Shashi Tharoor or Narendra Modi were quite slow in taking to social media. During the UPA rule when Tharoor as a Minister was quite active and visible on Twitter with day today updates of his work, Congress party admonished him to keep a low profile, we were told.  And that time from the opposition, leaders like Venkaiah Naidu took sly digs at Tharoor for his excessive tweeting!

More than 4 years later, the wheel has come a full circle. Naidu has an active Twitter account with more than 220K followers.  And it has now become the norm for the Ministers and other ruling politicians to customarily post updates on their day today activities and accomplishments on their FB page and/or on Twitter. We as citizens who had to depend earlier upon newspapers or TV reports (who in turn relied on press releases/briefings from Ministries) or Full page ads in newspapers released by parties to tom-tom their achievements (by the way this rotten practice continues to this day by all parties) now can get an idea of what is happening by “following” different ministers. Of course one must know to separate “gloats” from “ground reality”!  Apart from this method of feeding information – the game changer has been the emergence of a medium like Twitter to solve people’s problems.

We all now know how our Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj has become a darling of Overseas Indians because she religiously takes actions based on tweets directed at her asking for help. For those who get stuck in unforeseen situations that too in foreign shores, this has become a Godsend to cut across the Embassy security and bureaucratic maze and get the needed attention.  And similarly Suresh Prabhu, the Minister for Railways is another who is prompt in responding to passenger grievances on Twitter. So much so a passenger’s complaint tweeted from one station while he was on a journey got addressed by the time the train reached the next station! Or so we were told.  Routinely we see people tweeting to Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister for Commerce and Industry about various queries on policy matters,… and she makes it a point to respond diligently. In another positive use of social media, few days back Star anchor Rajdeep Sardesai tweeted about the need for a post office in Pithoragarh a small town in the Almora district – a mountainous stretch in Uttarakhand and lo, Ravi Shankar Prasad the concerned Minister obliged with opening of a new Post Office there I believe in 4 days!!! So it didn’t come as a surprise when the Ministers who were ranked high in opinion polls at Modi Sarkar’s 2 year Anniversary were all those who were active on social media. Not just active by their presence but by earnestly attempting to solve governance problems.

Though an active “twitterer” myself, I was initially a sceptic too. Whether the social media influence on public at large is an overrated phenomenon. After all a Facebook or a Twitter as a medium is still considered very urban and elitist and not one that reaches the bottom of the pyramid in a country where the political “fortunes” actually lie and where the IT penetration is a still a Work in slow progress. In fact, many including me were caught by surprise when a not so IT savvy grass root politician like Amit Shah, BJP’s President announced that one of the criteria for candidates for the upcoming UP polls was that they should have social media accounts and must be active on the same with XXXX number of followers! Is it that Modi is “bully pulpitting” the BJP and its leaders to take social media seriously and take advantage of the same???

May be or may not be actually. For the innately smart Indian politician (whether IT savvy or otherwise) it doesn’t get so difficult to grasp the growing utility of social media. There were many politicians in the pre- social media era too who earnestly addressed citizen issues being brought up to them thro petitions, letters, appeals,… However when they addressed those issues, it was only known to that petitioner or complainant concerned. However, in social media, when a Suresh Prabhu addresses a passenger issue promptly and responds on Twitter it reaches many of his followers. Multiple Retweeting then generates a humongous multiplier effect! And finally, if the story gets picked up by main stream media also then it delivers a huge reach – may be to the actual target audience of the Minister😃

So though social media still is very much urban and caters to a very literate and niche audience (considering India’s size) as of now, it is growing at a fast clip in terms of adoption. And more importantly what we see is social media today feeding off the narrative in main stream media routinely. What happens on Twitter gets lapped up and stories developed by many reporters, anchors and columnists for Newspapers, TV News,…

Yes, the obsession with “Trending on Twitter” by News channels and political parties may be completely misplaced. But if a political party gets also obsessed with using a Twitter as a medium to listen to the common man and communicate, it automatically becomes a very effective tool for delivering Governance. Today, it could be a staid EPFO that wants to be on social media. Tomorrow it could be a more staid Ministry of Ganga Rejuvenation😃. By the way, young boys and girls, managing social media has become a very attractive and powerful career option in political capitals!!! (more powerful than the “Personal Secretary” of yore)

P.S: Being very responsive on Twitter to deliver Governance also has its side effects. As Mrs. Swaraj recently found out. Somebody tweeted to her for help regarding problem with his Samsung Refrigerator😃😃 It’s another matter that the astute tweet got huge play and negative WOM for Samsung that I am sure the Tweeter would have got the desired result swiftly!!!

Bring in the “FDI” !!!

For the short-term (1999-2001) industrialist A.C.Muthiah served BCCI as its President, he made one stellar contribution to Indian Cricket. That was the time when Indian cricket was besieged with problems a plenty. Match fixing allegations, pathetic track record in “Away” tests, no significant ODI tournament wins and so on. Raj Singh Dungarpur a very passionate Indian cricketer turned administrator mooted the idea of a “Foreign” coach for the 1st time for the Indian team and in the year 2000, John Wright was appointed coach of the Indian cricket team – a position which was reserved for Ex-Indian stalwart players till then. The rest they say is history. Under Wright, India made the right journey – apart from continuing to be “tigers at home”, they went on to draw a test series in Australia, defeated Pakistan in Pakistan in tests, reached the finals in the 2003 World cup, to name a few milestones. This set the trend for hiring only foreign coaches subsequently for the cricket team so much so that these days I see that even most of the IPL teams have only foreign coaches !!!

The recent turnaround of the fortunes of the Indian hockey team is attributed to (among other things) the role of Michael Nobbs, an Aussie and again a foreign coach!

If you look at Indian cinema of late, even the forgetful “Ra one” or Shankar/Rajinikant’s Super hit “Robot” boasted of technology which was at par with Hollywood. Recently they say that even in an average movie, the technique in Bollywood is comparable to Hollywood cinema. This has not happened by magic or by Rajini’s wish! A quick glance at the “credits” scroll in any Hindi movie will show you many names of foreign technicians. Though the contribution of the Indian technicians in movies like Ra one or Robot cannot be underestimated, the makers admit that they accessed the best talent available worldwide and that has indeed made the difference.

Godrej group’s Chairman Adi Godrej candidly admits that though they broke off ties with P&G and GE at one point of time due to strategic issues, the group strengthened its balance sheet with intangible assets like acquiring knowledge of new management systems, marketing processes, quality control processes,.. from GE and P & G. When Mukesh Ambani puts his feet into organised retail, the 1st thing he does is to tap talent from global retail giants like TESCO,.. to roll out the retail venture in India.

So there has been a lot of “Foreign Direct Investments” in India perse and its nothing new!

Where I’m coming from is if Foreign hands can value add significantly to our nation’s cause in Industry, Sports, Cinema and many other fields which I’ve not touched upon due to lack of space, why not try some foreign hands to shape up the “Governance” of our country ? Can’t we not hire experts with great track record in economics, administration, and governance in other countries to look at governance issues we have? My premise is that people from outside bring in a completely different perspective and come without a baggage and may pitchfork great ideas which can plug some of our country’s problems.

To our netas and may be public at large, this may seem to be an outrageous proposition and one that is fraught with dangers related to nation’s security and other sensitivities. And this could seem to be a very specious argument. After all is nation’s security or economic position same as a game of cricket or a SRK’s flick? Certainly not. If we can’t bring in people of foreign origin to work with us in governance matters, can we do the next best thing? Which is – at least tap the enormous PIO (Persons of Indian Origin) talent which is available outside the country to contribute in solving some of the plaguing governance issues. One sterling example in this context is how Rajiv Gandhi brought in Sam Pitroda in the 80’s I guess as technology advisor and he heralded the telecom revolution in the country! Similarly why can’t we tap Nobel laureate Amartya Sen to consult on policy making and economy? or a Vinod Khosla to bring in an “Innovation culture” in our education system? Shashi Tharoor is another good example of a bureaucrat who is trying to make a difference in the Indian political scene with a different perspective on governance. He has been a PIO for a long while and the time he spent outside I’m sure is shaping his approach to his job as a MP in India. It’s another matter that his too “social” attitude and functioning cost his job  as a minister too early in his political career.

It’s not to say that we don’t have talented people within the country at present or that people here are not capable. It’s just that some of these people who have a successful track record outside by their experience in other countries could bring in a fresh perspective to solve problems.

So my clarion call for bringing in 100% “Foreign Direct Indians” to Delhi for contributing to our country’s Governance!!!

Tailpiece:

Journalist: Why are you opposed to “FDI” in retail?

Mamata: How can they propose FDI in retail? If they had proposed “FDIDI” in retail, I would have supported it!!!