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Rajini can’t or can?

A few weeks ago the chief ministers of Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Maharashtra were in the US vigorously campaigning for investments in their states. Their programmes included meetings with prospective investors and the prosperous Indian diaspora.  

Such attempts have regularly been made in the past by Narendra Modi as Chief Minister of Gujarat and Chandrababu Naidu as Chief Minister of AP. They have organised regular global investor meets and partnership summit on a grand scale in cooperation with industry associations like CII, FICCI and ASSOCHAM.  There has been a regular follow-up of such meetings. 

IE has been pointing to the absence of such efforts on the part of the chief ministers of Tamil Nadu. In the last 50 years, C N Annadurai and M G Ramachandran did go abroad but for medical treatment. Karunanidhi, despite his eloquence in Tamil, was wary of interactions with business leaders. Jayalalithaa chose to sit on a pedestal and did not bother to interact with business leaders or industry associations nor to travel outside. Over time, the leadership also made little effort to set up a separate body with powers to promote the state for investments. We have had brilliant civil servants of the state IAS cadre like M Raman, Saktikanta Das, 

Rajeev Ranjan and C V Sankar who attempted to present to prospective investors the attractions of the state. But these were few and far between.

In the 1950s and 1960s, R Venkataraman as Minister of Industry set for himself a target of opening at least one industrial unit a day. He procured the needed industrial licences by the state industrial development corporations. He offered a new generation of prospective entrepreneurs the licences backed with equity and loan funding by government institutions. Importantly, his government was free from corruption. In quick time the then investment-shy state caught up with the entrepreneurial Gujarat and Maharashtra. For a while, the Tamil Nadu Industrial Investment Corporation under S N Pai became the Number One state financial corporation. 

There was hope for change in the aftermath of the 1991 economic liberalisation. The Jayalalithaa government opened the state for some big ticket investments: Sterlite Industries, Thapar-DuPont and Ford Motors set up shop in the state. Soon this was followed by Hyundai Motors which brought along dozens of investments in the auto component sector. The 2000s also saw significant investments in IT, glass, automotive tyres, electronics and telecom sectors. These were in line with the growth of the economy at the national level. But the state, due to its neglect of power development and the global meltdown of 2008, has been suffering from lack of investments since. We need an energetic, articulate and well-informed chief minister willing to spend time on visits abroad, Delhi and state capitals as also to interact closely with business leaders on the lines of Modi and Naidu. 

 

Absence of a strong business orientation

In this light, the euphoria created by the prospective entry of film star Rajinikanth into politics and sections of media going gung-ho over his possible taking charge as chief minister is intriguing. Even more intriguing is political analysts like S Gurumurthy and the late Cho singing paeans on Rajinikanth. Obviously, there has been disappointment over the administrations of the DMK and the AIADMK. The state’s caste-oriented divisions and individualistic strains have blocked the chances  of the emergence of  well-educated, competent and charismatic leaders with exposure to global practices. Unlike Karnataka or Maharashtra, there is also the absence of a strong social orientation of large sections of the intelligentsia. 

Sadly, sections of business leaders as also civil servants have been denied easy access to the top political leadership,  both Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa. Over time, they have lost interest in lending their experience and advice on development issues. 

For half a century, the film world has provided the political leadership and fodder to both the leading parties. You only have to look at the long list of film stars led by Sivaji Ganesan to Nagma eager to cash on this.  At 67, can Rajini with zero exposure to politics or administration make a difference? The counter: didn’t Lalu Prasad hand over the reins to wife Rabri Devi and ran the government from jail?  

We know the quality of administration provided by Rabri Devi.  

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