The trouble with phoren press

A good friend (Sanjay C) pointed me to this Business Week cover story a couple of days ago. It goes “the trouble with India“, though “the trouble with Bangalore” may have been a better title as the article starts and ends with Namma Bengalooru. After all, going by his recent book (“The Bangalore Tiger“), author Steve Hamm does know a thing or two about Bangalore (or Wipro if you saw his book that way).

You might say it’d be unfair for me to comment on this article as it targets the western audience. Pictures of cows-on-the-street, snake-charmers and working-children have given way to stories about decaying infrastructure and corruption these days. Nothing wrong with that, it is what it is and things are the way they are. However, sometimes I wish the phoren press included a little informed talk or possible remedies as well.

But solutions or suggestions can’t be coming when you don’t have enough grip on the realities on ground, can they? Look at this bit on Chandrababu Naidu in there:

… Politicians who refuse to play the game pay a steep price. N. Chandrababu Naidu, the former chief minister of the state of Andhra Pradesh, transformed the state capital of Hyderabad from …

There is no game being played here, it is only democracy sir. We, the urban middle class folks may get carried away with talks of urban infrastructure, but come election time and the ignored hinterland gets its chance to strike back. That is democracy, though the facade of political drama makes it a bit hard for many to understand.

The closure – the significance of new Bangalore airport – is a bit overplayed as well:

A lot of India’s hopes rest on the (Bangalore) airport deal’s success. If it proves the viability of public-private partnerships …

We already have an airport that was built under this PPP model, Kochi is the name. Besides, airports may be the glamorous face of cities, but in terms of economic impact, land transportation and sea-port infrastructure counts for a lot more.

[update: The very popular GreatBong has a few more in his take on this BusinessWeek rant should you want to read on]

Nevertheless, the article makes a good read. There are handy quotes to describe the problems we all know, and some attempts at balancing the tone with talk of RTI and “government as a willing partner”. But when you cram so much information and so many names into a few page article, it is tough to be coherent.

PS: If you turned negative after reading it, I got a soothing insight for you. When Indian economy has come this far ‘despite’ the so-called-system, imagine the possibilities as those hurdles fade away! Ditto for Bangalore. However, we all got to wait. Things take time, isn’t it :)


8 Responses

  1. Pranav,

    These people make their living by providing “sound bites”. I would not expect anything too much different from them.

    Disclaimer : The views that follow are my own and do not represent that of my employer or me as an employee of a corporate. :)

    With that out of the way –

    Corporates love China. They love the speed at which things get done there. They love the infrastructure (read roads, ports, airports, expressways) that comes up at an astonishing pace. What they choose not to see is the terrible human price that is paid for this.

    How many people know that not everyone can choose to live in Shanghai or Beijing or Guangzhou – those new boom cities with glass and steel all over, with Maglevs going to airports, and other such modern marvels. A rural Chinese cannot live in any of these cities without a permit. Can you imagine this in India?
    Of course Bombay or Delhi or Bangalore cannot ever look like Shanghai.

    When I used to travel to Guangzhou, I used to stay at the China Hotel. Every morning, when I would go for breakfast, there used to be dozens of foreign couples taking girl babies for adoption. Reason – the one child policy, which is implemented very strictly. People would actually choose to give away a girl child so that they could then legally have another child hoping it would be a boy. Can you imagine a society where there is no concept of a brother or a sister let alone an uncle or aunt.

    That begs the question – who does a country or even a city belong to? To the elite? To the state? Or to every single person? how does the poorest person get a voice in the political process? What are his or her rights? However flawed Indian democracy is, it is better than a totalitarian system. I work in a corporate by choice; I am free to leave if I do not agree with the way it is run. I cannot choose to leave a country (not too easily anyway); hence I need to have a say in how it is governed. I might not have my way all the time, but I can at least have a say.

    Most totalitarian systems promise a great and glorious future. This becomes the basis for the sacrifices that they ask for in the present – in terms of political rights, human rights, freedom of speech.

    I think we are evolving as a democracy. A system of checks and balances is emerging within the polity itself in the form of coalition governments which tend to represent the diverse views of the general population. This is complex enough for the average Indian to understand and appreciate (some of the people that I know – and none of these is the average Indian – have hoped for a benevolent dictatorship in India), let alone for the average Westerner who has spent a couple weeks here. Hence his sympathy for Naidu.

    Naidu and Krishna neglected their rural voters to their peril. They saw themseleves as CEOs of their capital cities. Their job was to build institutions rather than personally supervise flyovers. A Banglorean’s life is more secure than a villager in Bidar. He might have the traffic jam to face, 2 hrs of power cuts – but at the end of the month he gets a salary and a reasonably decent one at that. The villager’s life is far more uncertain, he faces the prospect of drought, crop failure and starvation. On what basis do you ask him to wait for the benefits of liberalization to trickle down. There was no game in this as you said.

    But he has a fair point that things are far worse than they have to be – thanks to all our apathy.

    Sorry for a long blog. Thanks

  2. ‘Their job was to build institutions rather than personally supervise flyovers.’

    very few people talk about that.

    cm didn’t do this cm didn’t do that. i am concerened the cm has not been able anything to the system. even by his own admission the babus(who have practically ZERO accountability) are unmanageable.

    why phoren only? remember arun gupta or something like that whose blog got some circulation a few days ago. the guy did’nt even know what was happening with BIAL and he waxed eloquent on it.

    btw for what it is worth, apparently bangalore climbed a few places in some sort of livability index in some study -prolly phoren too.

  3. we need more indian style democracy. every one should be free to spit at each other. if any law is made to prevent spitting we will oppose it. china guru srivastha u r biased. people in china are loving their government also. bring indian style democracy to china and it will break into hundreds of pieces in real time.
    subba bangalore is great.

  4. Mohan,

    Why don’t you visit the following websites? Of course they could all be wrong. My point was not whether the people love the government or not – there are no elections in China to check if this is true or not. It is about the price the common man has to pay for the sort of progress that one sees

    Don’t blame democracy for our problems. Democracy has not failed us. We have failed democracy by assuming that it ends at casting a vote, whereas that is just the beginning.

  5. Dr VS Rao of BITS Hyderabad may think that Chandrababu Naidu was wrong in considering Economics as more important than politics. Who told Economics is urban and politics is for rural? Bihar gave importance to politics instead of economics and see the state of affairs there. Bhagavat Gita says that you cannot do good somewhere without doing bad somewhere else and vice versa. Naidu did not mean to do bad for rural and intended to do good for urban. In West Bengal Left Front used to give importance to Rural and win all votes there but used to loose seats in Kolkata city. Naidu’s Urban development with subsequent rural benefits was indeed wise thinking. Success is not to be measured by CM designations, elections fought and seats won but by the enormous obstacles which were overcome and there is no doubt that with Economic Focus Chandrababu Naidu is indeed a success which pigeon headed fellows have failed to appreciate.

  6. I strongly support Srivathsa’s point that democracy has not failed us. Without it, we would have either ended up as a violent naxal torn country, or as 30 different states. Ours is a country of extremes, to maintain this feeling of freedom that exists across this spectrum of prosperity (very poor to very rich) is an incredible job that is sometimes hard to appreciate.

    Now, you can argue endlessly that the feeling of freedom is perception more than reality, or that a dictatorship model could have taken us farther faster or that 30 diff states would have been better. But while you argue, do pause and appreciate that you can argue almost anything and everything without the fear of government chasing down for your IP address and location.

    Mojo, never said Naidu meant to do bad for rural Andhra. He did well what he did well, no denying that. But all that post election discussion told me that he paid a lot less attention to the state than he did to Hyderabad. Hyderabad and Bangalore are not meant to be run by CMs and only CMs. We all seem to have the wrong expectation there. As Sri said above:

    ‘Their job was to build institutions rather than personally supervise flyovers.’

    Build institutions that do the job, or strengthen and enable local governing bodies to do the job. Otherwise we will continue to have this situation where a CM good for Bangalore/Hyderabad will find himself short of time to win confidence of the rest of state (Karnataka/Andhra).

    I long for a day when mayor of Bangalore, or CEO of BBMP will get the credit or blame for things good or bad with the city. Shouting HDK HDK is our way of complicating the situation.

  7. Silkboard, just regarding the last para in your latest post,

    I definitely believe that we should preferably criticize the CEO of BBMP or Mayor, but the problem starts when the CM takes credit for every small piece of good work done by BBMP. You see these politicians coming down to open a flyover, or a new shop around the corner, or to cut ribbons at a new autorickshaw stand. They just want to show off that they are doing something good. It sends out a signal to people that every small work is done by these politicians. So they feel agitated at them when something is not done.

  8. there was some noise about BBMP having a cabinet level mayor. directly elected with a longer tenure. any further news on that?
    as things stand mayor has even less practical teeth than corporators.

    bangalorean, that is unavoidable. but i think people are perceptive. they can distinguish between CM, commissioner and mayor and their respective contributions.

    I mean commisioner and mayor are the ones who go for site inspection, address day to day issues and so on. these get covered in the media regularly so they get their names associated with individual projects quite often.

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