Global Investors Meet in Chennai – Bargaining over the Bride: T Venkat

Guest Post by T VENKAT

The Government of Tamil Nadu organized a Global Investors Meet (September 9-10), on the lines of the now famous ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ model. GIM, as they call it, was touted as intending to attract thousands of crores of investment to Tamil Nadu. The main routes from the airport to the many different venues in Chennai were prepared to receive the corporate celebrities and the political heavy weights. For the past week, workers worked through the night getting the venue, the routes and the hoardings ready for this big day. As I was passing through the venue the day before the event began, watching all the meticulous planning, the overflow of cops and their blaring vehicles, the flood lights and the workers underneath them, the whole exercise seemed surreal.

The City is decked up for the great event. The roads are clean, the lights are bright. Flags and festoons line the routes, while endless lines of hoardings of our beloved ‘Amma’ welcome the global investors to our State. The police are out to keep us in good behavior; the workers are out giving last minute touch-ups. There is a phrase in Hindustani that approximates to this, ‘dressed up like a bride,’ it rings true as I see all this make-up being lathered on my city. But it is more a matching-making exercise than a wedding yet. The leading captains of industry, commerce and finance descend from all corners of the world. They come like potential bridegrooms flocking to the ‘Swayamvara’. The families will sit around tables, make small talk, show off their wealth, put up their best faces, make each other feel like family. Here around the elite tables, political masters and economic masters will toast to each other’s good fortune. Like most Indian marriages though, the ‘bride to be’, with her future at the altar, will have no seat at the table.

After all the fanfare and all the affection, they will get down to the details. Yes, the ‘grooms to be’ (and their accountants), will ask to know what the dowry would be, and the guardians of the bride (our political masters) will offer to them many things including land, slaves and money. But giving dowry is illegal in India, so it will be euphemistic talk. While the CEOs will speak of ‘easing business’, our leaders will offer ‘labour reforms’, ‘fast track environmental clearance’, ‘tax holidays’ and ‘land lease’.

To win this dowry, the grooms will make massive pledges and promises… as empty as the ones our leaders make to us… As empty as the ones Nokia made to us.

When Nokia came to India it had promised investment upwards of $100 million and 6000 jobs (direct and indirect) but after ten years of operation, in which it employed many many more, Nokia closed shop in 2014. The reason the promise was not kept was because Nokia sold out and moved away from Chennai, leaving many workers in the lurch and not paying up huge tax arrears (that are still in dispute). Nokia Finland only invested about Rs 35 crores, but made over Rs 50000 crores in material supplies, royalties for technology and dividend. All this information is part of court documents and available online.
So basically, Nokia made huge profits but did not give back to the area or the country anything significant – principally because the commitments made in MoUs are not binding. 

But if the bride makes any complaint, she will be admonished for her naivety. “Such a match can never ever happen again, it is a great life ahead, if not here, the grooms will run away to our neighbours”, the family would say. If she further resists, she might even have to endure a couple of blows. When the curtains fall on the Global Investors Meet, ever more human and natural resources of my State would have been gambled away in a bluff about development.

Update:

The claim at the end of the GIM is that investments of over 200000 cr have been pledged, but a look at the past reveals a very poor realization of these pledges. 

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