Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Politics of the Nano

We have all heard of leveraging market opportunities that will propel India into the next phase of its economic growth. Pundits have opined that India will be one of the superpowers of the world sometime during this century. And I strongly believe, that the Tata Nano project, at the start of this century is one of those key market opportunities that reinforce our presence on the global map. However, the politics of the Nano has ensured that this massive economic opportunity be stunted in its intent even before it takes off.

The likes of Ms. Mamta Banerjee have tried to justify the social stigma that the Nano project would create, in terms of depriving farmers of their land. Nobody is disputing that claim. Her voice alone, not to mention her highly dramatised hunger strike, have been definitive ways of telling Mr. Ratan Tata that the Singur plant will never see the light of the day in the state of Bengal. However, what I fail to understand is, where was this protest when the approvals for the Nano were on? Why is it that no other state in the country has a problem in hosting the Tatas for this prestigious project? Why is it that Bengal digs its own hole by holding up one of India’s most ardent projects? Why are we not able to identify the potential or even catch a glimpse of more forward-looking Bengalis like their current Chief Minister?

If one is to read the context of the Singur project in the light of Bengal’s history with industrialization, there possibly isn’t anything bigger than the Nano project that has crossed the drawing board in the state. However, the conservatives and the socialists of Bengal are far too concerned about the poor farmers (and only them, as it were) who would be deprived of their land, at the cost of the Nano. Fair point. But, what they fail to see is the larger possibility of a Nano being able to accommodate these very deprived souls at a future date. This would provide these farmers far greater economic prosperity than a one-off settlement against their lands would. This politicization of the Nano does not have the larger picture in its view i.e. the Tata is one of India’s largest conglomerates and is one of the most socially affable companies ever seen in the country.

I find it hard to digest that these politicians are so disconnected on the singular theme of a dream car from India, hitting global markets - an future Indian brand that has caught the attention of every discernible automobile consumer, manufacturer and government in the world. It is so tragic to see the Bengal Chief Minister trying to pacify the likes of Mamta Banerjee and Ratan Tata – the former being the root cause of this obstacle to the Nano dream, and the latter, a visionary who has given the country the chance to catapult India on the global automobile map. Not only that, scores of suppliers and other stakeholders related to this project will reap the benefits of this dream. Kinetic Engineering is a case in point and there will be numerous other companies and other establishments that can build strong business plans for their future growth, based on the Nano rollout. There are other benefits too – employment, industrialization of a state that hardly anyone takes seriously, opportunity for exports, development financing and so on.

In all this, I strongly believe that its time that the communist approach of some of the key influencers in Bengal, take a leaf out of their Chief Minister’s book. Mr. Buddhadeb Bhattarcharya. He was fighting a lone battle in balancing Ratan Tata’s vision in Singur and Mamta Banerjee’s firm resolve to boot out the Nano from Bengal. I am not Bengali, but I am an educated Indian. And I strongly feel that the educated folks in Bengal are possibly not able to rake in a collective voice that would drive some wisdom into the politics of the Nano. People opposing the Nano have not been able to gauge the message that future investors in Bengal would have – Bengal has eventually paid the price for its narrow-mindedness. I just hope, as a forward-looking Indian, that this the last time they falter. Else, Bengal will have to reconcile with the fact that the rest of the country will power ahead in the modern era – far beyond what the current Bengalis can even fathom.

The assignment of the project to Gujarat, should have hopefully sent out the message to the conservatives of Bengal, that India is a progressing nation. And the likes of Ratan Tata, have alternatives and will not (and I dare say, need not) succumb to the conservative & antiquated views in Bengal.

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