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Editor’s Notes

BJP can still return to power

With elections to the Lok Sabha due in May, political parties are busy exploring alliances. Opposition parties are working on the single agenda of dethroning BJP. The massive show staged at Kolkata on 19 January organised by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was a follow up on such an effort by DMK leader M K Stalin in Chennai earlier. But taking the mission forward will not be easy in the absence of an agreement on a credible minimum programme of action acceptable to all parties. Almost all the parties in such a mahagathbandhan are regional parties with little national development plan in these manifestos. There would also be difficulty in choosing the prime minister in case a coalition of disparate parties ensues. Today, the Congress doesn’t command wide acceptance for its leadership at the national level.
BJP has a weak following in south India. Recently, it has lost power in several northern states. With the tie-up between the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samajwadi Party in UP, competition is bound to be tough in this largest state.
Still, some forecasts show Modi’s charisma, aided by the organisational capabilities of Amit Shah and the gross roots strengths of RSS, could see BJP still emerging with the largest number of seats. But parties in opposition will strive hard to keep the BJP out at any cost; it happened in Karnataka. The record of coalition governments in recent years did not have much to crow about. The hope and prayer are for the electorate to return a single party with a comfortable majority as happened in 2014.

This trust deficit

In 1982, in an interesting discussion at Paris, Alcatel’s director in-charge of Indian operations, gave an interesting description of the psyche of Indian policymakers: “your technical teams are brilliant; they demand the best of technology and of course at the best of terms. They arrive at the final specifications and return to India. But, they take a lot of time to finalise the deal. By the time they do this, technology would have advanced. They restart the exercise again… and again.” He made a very pithy comment: “one can go on choosing the ideal bride and remain a bachelor for life.” He said that “the quality of French telecom was also poor a few years earlier. We collaborated with American AT&T; we said ‘thank you’ after assimilating and building on it. Today we have some of the best telecom systems in the world.”
The Indian approach has not changed overmuch 37 years later. Look at the Rafale deal. Former defence minister A K Anthony was zealously preserving his image as a ‘clean’ minister. The best way, he might have felt, was not to take decisions. The Congress, battered for decades over the Bofors scandal, was afraid to conclude the deal. In the process, technology changed and costs zoomed.
You don’t have pundits lacking in criticising the very high price for the Rafale aircraft agreed to by Prime Minister Modi. In the decade that had taken to conclude the deal, a lot more of developments in the design and technology had taken place, resulting in cost escalation. Prices of even matured products like cars zoom over time. This is more so in case of hi-tech products like a combat aircraft. Indigenous developments in such areas have been painfully slow. Look at the course of the main battle tank (or the fast breeder reactor at Kalpakkam). Such delays render our defence forces vulnerable. There are reports that our defence capabilities are equipped far less than required. With hostile neighbours on the north and the west this is of grave concern. The Modi government took bold to focus on defence production and exports and announced an ambitious policy for realising impressive results by 2025. And that is how it should be.

Now, handsome public sector investments in Tamil Nadu

IE has been pointing to the lack of mega investments by the Central public sector units in Tamil Nadu for long. Contrast this with the large investments made in Maharashtra on massive railway projects: both the expansion of the suburban rail system and the Japanese-aided high-speed rail service from Mumbai to Ahmedabad; as also a massive oil refinery cum petrochemical project.
Coinciding with the TN GIM, three large projects have been announced – by Chennai Petroleum Corporation, Indian Oil and the Neyveli Lignite Corporation to a total projected investment of Rs. 67,841 crore. Add to these the investment of Rs. 69,000 crore planned by the Chennai Metro for its expansion.
The inauguration of work on All India Institute of Medical Sciences by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Madurai with a proposed investment of Rs. 1264 crore will strengthen healthcare in southern Tamil Nadu. The AIIMS will add 100 UG and 60 BSc Nursing seats. AIIMS Madurai will have 750 beds and handle around 1500 outpatients a day and offer over 15-20 super speciality departments. Employment directly generated is indicated around 3000.

A regrettable mix up of photos and an apology

My relations with the Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation began right at the launch of IE in 1968. The early years saw the joint sector emerging in full bloom. The star was the Southern Petrochemical Industries Corporation (SPIC). It set up the largest fertilizer unit with a capacity of 1600 tonnes per day of urea. Dozens of others followed in quick succession. Several of these like Titan Watches grew big.
TIDCO also promoted Tamil Nadu Cements, TIDEL PARK.. with handsome investments. IE covered several of these in detail interacting with a succession of several tall officials.
I revisited TIDCO for GIM 2015 and for GIM 2019. The latter was the last of my meetings for the current GIM. Despite my calling late around 7.30 pm, Executive
Director S Visakan was kind in introducing me to the CMD Ramesh Chand Meena who was busy preparing for his foreign visit in the next couple of days. Despite the six long holidays that ensued, the CMD and his senior staff Bhuvaneswari ensured TIDCO’s participation in our GIM special issue.
Dayanand Kataria, Principal Secretary, Cooperation, Food and Consumer Protection. Kataria gave his time liberally and provided rich information on Tamil Nadu’s public distribution system. He pointed to smart family cards distributed to over two crore families and the recent efforts on taking extensive recourse to IT: “all the 34,773 fair price shops were provided with point of sale devices to distribute essential commodities. The web-based monitoring system has been a great help in eliminating corruption and preventing false billing,” said Kataria.
While we presented such interesting information in detail, we published the photographs wrongly in the case of both these senior IAS officers. I profoundly regret the inadvertence and offer our apologies.

Congratulation Dr RV

Dr R Venkataswami who founded the Institute for Research and Rehabilitation of Hand and Department of Plastic Surgery at the Stanley Medical College has been awarded the Padma Shri Dr RV is considered the father of reconstructive plastic surgery in this part of the country. With slender resources, he worked on providing relief to the numerous victims of accidents in factories, roads… He gave life and hope to hundreds by reconstructing the veins and nerves of an accident victim through surgeries that took long hours.
Dr RV liberally dedicates his wealth to the Gandhi Niketan Ashram at Kallupatti near Madurai, founded by late Gandhian G. Venkatachalapathy. Congratulations, doctor.

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