Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s had received huge flak from within his party for appointing Gita Gopinath, a liberal economist from Harvard as his economic advisor, but he stuck to the decision as he believed that it may help investors change their perception that communists are against capitalism.
The investors realized he meant business after he cleared the hurdles for the development of national highways and few big ticket projects like GAIL’s gas pipeline and Vizhinjam Seaport besides piloting Kerala Investment Promotion and Facilitation Act for improving the state’s ranking with respect to ‘ease of doing business (EoDB).
However, captains of industry feel that his efforts may come to naught if he fails to check the spread of political violence in the state. More than political violence, it is the attempt by the Bharatiya Janata Party to take the issue to the national level that is hurting the state more, according to leaders of industry bodies.
The chief minister himself has expressed apprehension that the ‘wrongful projection’ of Kerala by the BJP and a section of the media as a region torn by political strife would impact his ambitious development agenda. He said that the effect of the ‘false’ campaign was already being felt in the tourism sector, a key economic driver.
“Kerala has the best law and order situation in the country. Some communal groups are trying to create the impression that the state is on the boil. These outfits, which are intolerant of the peaceful environment in the state, are turning towards violence. Their aim is not the welfare of the state,” he added.
“Any development that tarnishes the image of a region is bad for the industry. The projection of the entire state as a troubled region by anybody will certainly force an investor from outside think twice before he decides to set his shop in the state,” says Nawas Meeran, managing director of Eastern Condiments and national council member of Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).
He told the Firstpost that investors have been shying away from Kerala because of its militant trade unionism. While the trade unions have realized the mistake and changed their ways, the frequent shut down strikes (hartals) still remain as an irritant. The new problems in the law and order front would confound their fears, he said.
The World Bank report on EoDB has placed Kerala at 20th position among the states with a dismal score of 36.97 percent. The state’s rank was 18 when the previous Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) government demitted office. It came two rungs down after the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) assumed power in May 2016.
Kerala was also ranked top among 29 Indian states in good governance in the last year of the previous government though it was hit by a series of scandals and scams. The ranking was done by Bengaluru-based think-tank Public Affairs Centre (PAC) based on 10 parameters comprising a total of 25 subjects and 68 development indicators.
The fourth year of the UDF government saw Kerala emerging top in the ranks in terms of growth in receiving industrial entrepreneurs’ memorandum (IEM) proposals. A study by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) showed that the state had recorded a growth of 315 percent business proposals to the tune of Rs 3 trillion during 2014-15 against a decline of 65 percent across India during the same period.
Pinarayi has been trying to build on this by reforming the existing rules and Acts related to clearance procedures for starting enterprises. The LDF government has appointed KPMG (Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler), an international consultancy firm, to study the whole gamut of the processes.
The captains of industry were hopeful that these efforts could lead to positive changes in the economic front and lift the state from years of industrial stagnation. They feel that the BJP is doing a disservice to the state by exaggerating the incidents of political violence.
“Many states are witnessing political violence. The violence in Kerala is confined to certain pockets and could not deter investors. Those who are operating in the state understand the politics behind the propaganda but an investor from outside take it seriously,” says K Ramanujam, president of Kerala chapter of the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
He said that the issues leading to political violence can easily be sorted out if the parties concerned sit together and take positive steps. Ramanjum said he was hopeful that they will end the current specter of violence since both the chief minister and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are batting for development.
However, both the parties are in no mood to end the violence. The CPI (M) has sought to shirk its responsibility by blaming the BJP-RSS combine for the violence. Party secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan sees senior BJP leader and Union Minister Arun Jaitely’s visit to the state as part of the party’s agenda to capture power in the state through undemocratic means.
“The BJP is hell-bent on capturing power at any cost. The party is trying to achieve this by propagating falsehood. The people will reject their move to project the state as a land of political violence and turmoil,” Balakrishnan said.
Though the state leaders of the BJP have vowed to restrain their cadres from indulging in acts of violence in the bilateral and all party parleys convened by the chief minister in the wake of the murder of RSS worker Rajesh at Thiruvananthapurama last week, the party is trying to keep the issue alive.
Political observers feel that a senior minister like Jaitely was fielded as part of a larger agenda. He has left a sour point by blaming the Pinarayi government for the violence. Party chief Amit Shah and RSS supremo Mohan Bhagawat, who are scheduled to visit the state soon, may follow suit.
Political observers feel that this may deepen the wound that both sides are trying to heal. A report in Hindu said that the BJP had drawn up an extensive social media campaign targeting the LDF government. Quoting party sources, the report said that the party was trying to use the incidents of political violence in Kerala as part of its attempt shed its upper caste image.
The incidents suite the agenda as the victims of the violence have been mostly from Dalit and backward classes. The Hindu report says that the party, therefore, may keep the issue of political violence in the state alive till at least next Lok Sabha elections.
Published Date: Aug 08, 2017 09:02 am | Updated Date: Aug 08, 2017 09:04 am