Of Birds, Frogs, Entrepreneurs and Bengal

Of Birds, Frogs, Entrepreneurs and Bengal

Roopen Roy(Views are personal)

"The time has come," the Walrus said,

"To talk of many things:

Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--

Of cabbages--and kings--

And why the sea is boiling hot--

And whether pigs have wings."

Four birds are perched on tree. A hunter aims and shoots one. How many birds do you have left? Three? Wrong. The correct answer is: None. It is not arithmetic. As the gun roars, the other three birds fly away to safety. The agitators of Bengal , regardless of their flags or party affiliations,have made it their business to make business fly away to safer havens . There is a perception that it is difficult to do business in Bengal. The example of shooting a bird is not a politically correct one. But tragically in Bengal-shooing away businesses has been a politically gainful,economically unviable and socially acceptable game for decades. And ironically, this game is played in the name of the poor, the disempowered and the downtrodden.

Of course, policies like freight equalization took away the natural advantages of the East and caused the agony of West Bengal. The license Raj was not kind to our economic development. But truth be told, that was not the only malaise that drove capital and enterprise away from our beloved state. Many of us were in denial while we slowly declined as a state. Our glorious past dimmed and outshone our future. Our economic growth declined, our employment opportunities shrank and we steadily went down in the league table of industrialized states.

Now from the birds that we scared, let us look at the frog . Daniel Quinn in his The Story of B famously wrote, “If you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will of course frantically try to clamber out. But if you place it gently in a pot of tepid water and turn the heat on low, it will float there quite placidly. As the water gradually heats up, the frog will sink into a tranquil stupor, exactly like one of us in a hot bath, and before long, with a smile on its face, it will unresistingly allow itself to be boiled to death”.If you are a scientist, you will dispute the boiling frog theory. If you are, on the other hand, a cynical denizen of Bengal , you may assert that the B in Quinn’s story stands for Bengal.

What can we do to change? Not change just for the sake of change but transform for the better?There is no magic bullet. But as an untiring optimist I will offer a few suggestions.First, I think we will have to come to terms with the reality that governments cannot be blamed for all our woes nor can they be counted upon to solve all our problems. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves. There are many states more corrupt and inept than ours. And yet they are making steady progress. Why? Because while they are lining their pockets, they are not placing hurdles in the path of economic growth. They are not wringing the neck of the golden goose to extract the last egg.

We must develop a broad consensus that without economic growth there is no credible answer to our problems of unemployment and abject poverty. The entrepreneurs and civil society must grasp the nettle and create enormous pressure to steer our state forward. Left alone, the government or our political class will never propel us to where we aspire to go. We are endowed by Mother Nature with a fertile, alluvial soil and a scarce resource: water. We have the opportunity of becoming the granary of India if we dramatically improve our farm sector. If FDI in multi-brand retail is permitted, the entire East and in particular Bengal will benefit the most in revving up our agricultural productivity, investing in post-harvest infrastructure and cold chain. We will reduce waste of our farm produce and expand our agro-processing industrial base.

We are endowed with minerals in the East –be it iron ore, coal, methane, shale oil or minerals. And yet expansion of industries based on these mineral resources are languishing because of lack of easy access to land, ineffective policy framework for resettlement and our inability to develop and attract entrepreneurs. We must make it simpler, faster and cleaner to procure land for industries . We must also earn the reputation of being welcoming and friendly to investors and entrepreneurs. After a late start, we have made reasonable progress in the IT and ITES sector. Our human talent has attracted global brands like IBM, Cognizant, Cap Gemini, Deloitte, Accenture,Ericsson and PwC and Indian giants like Wipro, TCS, Mahindra Satyam and Infosys.

But the service industry alone cannot solve our unemployment challenges. There is no substitute for industrialization. The engine of employment generation will be manufacturing –particularly in the small and medium scale sector. In Germany,the backbone of its industrial growth is its famed mittelstand-the medium-sized family firms. In order to provide gainful employment to our youth, accelerated skill building and vocational training programs should be unleashed. While we need more teachers, doctors, engineers and IT professionals, we need many more trained and skilled para-medics, nurses, plumbers, welders, construction workers, modern farm technicians, carpenters,artisans, chefs, tourist guides and so on. We have to play to our advantages. And above all we need to welcome entrepreneurs and companies who will invest their capital, time, technology,innovation and bring in market access. They will create wealth,generate employment-that is the way to go.