Make In Odisha
Last week I attended a symposium organised by “Odisha Forum”, which comprises mostly Odia professionals living in Delhi. The subject under discussion was “Make in Odisha”, the idea obviously influenced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” programme. Among those who addressed the symposium were the senior officials of the Tatas, India’s leading industrial house and my friend Amitabh Kant, Secretary, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Government of India. Having a long association with Odisha in mining sector, Tatas have grand plans for the industrialisation of Odisha that include a steel plant and an industrial park for which they struggled really hard to acquire land. Tata officials have high expectations from both the Modi government at the Centre and Naveen Patnaik government in the state in facilitating the rapid industrialisation of Odisha.
Amitabh was very effective in making two points. One is that Odisha has all the potentials in becoming another Malaysia and Singapore. In fact, he went to the extent of saying that if entrepreneurs are given a conducive environment, then of all the states in India, it is Odisha that can be the leader in Modi’s “Make in India” mission. He was absolutely right in pointing out how Odisha has rich mineral resources (large reserves of bauxite, china clay, chromites, coal, dolomite, fireclay, graphite, gemstones, iron ore, limestone, manganese ore, mineral sand, nickel ore, pyrophylite and quartz), a long coastline with three ports (one of them being Paradip, one of the country’s largest), dense jungles, vast stretches of farming land, abundant water, surplus power, huge man power and centuries old rich cultural heritage of a land of seaborne traders. Important parts of Odisha are all well connected by rail and national highways. Odisha is also strategically located in the Bay of Bengal and can be a great global commercial and industrial hub through linkages with South East and East Asia. And yet if Odisha is backward and does not attract enough foreign investors or for that matter does not help the committed foreign investors such as South Korea’s POSCO (it signed a memorandum of understanding in June 2005 with the state government of Odisha to construct a $12 billion steel plant. But the project has been marred by all sorts of controversies though it, if materialised, will become the highest ever Foreign Direct Investment in India) and the London-based Vedanta group, then it is due to, as Amitabh regretted, the fact that Odisha seems to be “a soft state”.
Though few in the audience contested the description of Odisha being a “soft state”, I thought that Amitabh was speaking the unpleasant truth. Possession of the potentials does not make one prosperous or developed. With all its potentials and resources, the fact remains that Odisha is India’s most backward state. In 2013, a panel headed by Raghuram Rajan, now the Governor of Reserve Bank of India, had prepared a new index of backwardness (based on 10 equally weighted indicators of monthly per capita consumption expenditure, education, health, household amenities, poverty rate, female literacy, percentage of the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe population, urbanisation rate, financial inclusion and physical connectivity), according to which Odisha was found the most backward (followed by Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan) and Goa the most developed (followed by Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand and Haryana) .
Thus, we have a huge paradox in the sense that Odisha is the poorest despite having richest resources. How to explain this phenomenon? Unfortunately, much attention was not given to this aspect at the symposium. But some answers to this question are worth-attempting. In my considered view, the most important reason why Odisha has remained backward has been essentially due to the poor political leadership in the state for years coupled with an unconcerned, often biased, central government. Though in last one decade or so, some really promising and immensely talented Odias have come to the Indian Parliament, it must be admitted that overall, the competence of the parliamentarians from Odisha during the last six and half decades in pressrurising or bargaining hard with the central government to promote the interests of the state has been pathetic, to speak the least. In fact, it is remarkable that the Congress, which has been in power for most of the time in independent India’s history, hardly bothered to make any Odisha parliamentarian even a cabinet minister.
The trend of central apathy to the interests of Odisha continues even under the Modi regime, though the Prime Minister misses no opportunity to highlight how he intends to make the eastern part of India as developed and prosperous as the western states. Maybe that explains why in this year’s budgetary allocations, the Modi government has been very sensitive to states like Bihar and West Bengal by providing them special packages. But what about Odisha? I think that Naveen Patnaik, Odisha chief minister, has a valid point when he says that Odisha has been treated by the Modi government as “a step child”.
It is to the credit of Patnaik, chief minister for over 15 years, that his government, compared to that of his predecessors, has been more assertive in protecting and furthering the state’s interests. But that has not been enough in creating necessary infrastructures or for that matter in taking strong political decisions to enthuse the cause of entrepreneurship in Odisha. His long innings in power can be attributed mostly to his “clean image” (a huge factor in India’s politics marred by corruption related scandals from time to time) and distributing freebies to the poor who constitute the overwhelming majority as voters. All told, Patnaik has not been able to free himself from the pressures of standard Indian politics that glorifies poverty instead of working towards its elimination.
In fact, all the political parties, intelligentsia, media and numerous nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) in Odisha are hyperactive in promoting the cult of poverty. Every industrial project or proposal in Odisha over the last few years has been projected as anti-poor and anti-people, giving an impression that Odisha, otherwise, is a land of milk and honey. There have been agitations, often violent, against the land possession and environmental clearance, something a partisan Central government has taken full advantage of. And invariably, rival corporate houses have inflamed the passions by funding the agitators. That explains the lack of progress of the likes of POSCO, often dissuading the other potential investors from going to the state. Besides, things on the governance-front in the state have much to improve in creating the necessary infrastructures and having a de-bureaucratised and easy clearance system to facilitate the setting up of industries. Here, as in Gujarat, one of the most business-friendly states in the country, Odisha government could have done a lot by creating a huge land bank itself, which would have made the task of industries to acquire the necessary land much smoother. Creating such a bank is all the more difficult now, with the entire political class opposed to
Modi making it a huge prestige issue in stalling the proposed amendments necessary to acquire land for developmental purposes.
There is also what I call the crab-mentality, a mentality that in a way applies to all Indians in some degree or the other but little more to the Odias. This mentality can be best explained through a much-cited story that runs like this: Once a newly appointed captain of a merchandise-ship that was transporting a lot of crabs saw crabs from different countries being kept in different boxes. He noticed that except in one, the lids of all boxes were tightly closed. He asked one of his assistants why it was so. The assistant replied, “Sir, the open box carries Indian crabs. It does not require any lid because Indian crabs do not have any unity; if one of them climbs up to escape, others will be so jealous that they will do everything to pull it down back into the box. This will never happen to crabs from other countries. In case any one of them manages to reach out to the top in an open box, they will support it to escape away.”
This story is often said in an innocuous manner, but it, nevertheless, conveys a very powerful message. And that is the fact that one Indian rarely tolerates and appreciates another Indian’s success. This apparent lack of disunity has been responsible for thousands of years of our subjugation by the foreigners. And this hatred towards success is the reason why we and our leaders often glorify poverty. See the way our governments go on distributing largesse or subsidies to the poor in the name of social justice, whereas the best way to serve them is to empower them (by enabling their capacities) so that they do not remain poor. In other words, the common mentality is that we are not successful and we will not allow anyone else to be successful. We will not do anything ourselves, and we will not allow anyone else to do something.
I think that this crab-mentality is the biggest impending factor on the path of Odisha’s industrialisation. And I am personally sad over this, because though I have spent two-third of my life in Delhi, I have deep roots in Odisha. In fact, one of the important reasons why I went to attend the symposium was to learn something because I will love to see my son, who has completed his B. Tech. and keen to go abroad, to change his mind and begin his active life as a small entrepreneur in my home state. I am of the firm conviction that India cannot be a developed country until and unless more and more of its young turn entrepreneurs, small or big. But that seems to be a huge challenge given the mindset of Indian politicians and intelligentsia, a mindset that is opposed to the very ideas of growth and development, all in the name of “saving poor”.
By Prakash Nanda