“ALL THROUGH HISTORY Tamil Nadu’s development has been mainly due to enterprise,” said B Santhanam. Unlike like Bengaluru and Hyderabad, which thrived initially through public sector investments and subsequently through information technology, the development of Chennai, well-spread over automobiles, rubber and petrochemicals, has been deeply private. In this respect, Tamil Nadu is similar to Maharashtra and Gujarat, thriving on private enterprise.
There has thus been a clear division of managing the state – the social side by the government and the economic side by business. The content of welfare in the state is indeed rich in the areas of education, health and skills development. Santhanam cited the rapid advances made by the state in engineering education: “till the 1980s, higher professional education was in the hands of the state and philanthropists and was totally guided by the state. But the size was modest. The massive scaling up occurred after MGR allowed the private sector to enter this domain. This has resulted in an explosive growth in engineering education resulting in copious supplies of educated manpower through the hundreds of polytechnics and engineering colleges.”
Santhanam referred to the state having many firsts: like the first survey college (that evolved as the Guindy Engineering College), the first telephone line, the first industrial estate, etc. In recent years it also pioneered retail business and healthcare with banking, financial services and NBFCs evolving on ethical lines. In the evolution of enterprises, scale and breadth matter, Mumbai enterprises have scale. Tamil Nadu enterprises, in comparison, are not large. But these thrive on the basis of the breadth and one doesn’t see the entrepreneurs hobnobbing with policy-makers for growth. Santhanam also pointed to the absence of politically oriented militant trade union activity. This has helped business to do things without interference from the government.