Corporate Bangalore must sustain the political pressure
It took a group of Bangalore’s knowledge economy CEOs to threaten a boycott of the Karnataka government’s IT trade show for Dharam Singh’s government to finally sit up and acknowledge that it was, after all, committed to improving Bangalore’s outdated infrastructure. The IT industry leaders, headed by no less a person that Infosys’ Narayana Murthy, made conciliatory noises and confirmed that they too were, after all, committed to participating in IT.in, a ‘trade show’ for the entire joint family where corporate types in smart suits jostle their way through a sea of students, teachers, job-seekers, politicians, policemen and other individuals who only at IT.in count as trade visitors — an indication, perhaps, of how deeply the IT industry has penetrated Bangalore society. But this is not a post about IT trade shows.
It is a post about how readily — after finally having taken on a government that seemed to do its best to undermine Bangalore’s economic growth — the captains of Bangalore’s IT industry called a truce with the government. If their intention was to make a point, then they have secured a tactical victory. Brinkmanship at the eleventh hour was sure to elicit some accomodating noises from Karnataka’s politicians. But the matters the industry raised, weighty ones involving not just improving Bangalore’s airport and roads but also bringing the city’s infrastructure in line with those of its global competitors, can hardly be solved by the weekly meetings that the chief minister promised he would chair. Bringing back the ‘public-private partnerships’, best represented by the Bangalore Action Task Force (BATF), will help. But as the experience with BATF showed, a resolutely antipathetic government can click the undo button rather too easily and there’s little the industry can do about it, until perhaps, another IT.in comes along. But the same tactic may not work the next time.
Despite the IT industry’s size and contribution to the economy of several of Karnataka’s urban centres, it has relatively little influence in the state’s political calculus. The immediate explanation for this puts the blame on India’s electoral system. But the other explanation is that having achieved international success largely in spite of the state and central governments, India’s IT industry has preferred to keep politics and politicians at an arms length. But now, to sustain its global edge, the IT industry needs to add its note to the India’s political orchestra (well, okay, cacophony).
Of course, the crude way to do this is to back parties and politicians who champion its cause. But a more sophisticated approach is to also fund institutes, policy think-tanks and industry organisations that can advocate and articulate industry interests. They must get their op-eds in the regional language press and their talking heads on local TV channels. India’s IT industry has shown time and again that it is immensely capable of moving ‘up the value chain’. It needs to do the same with its politics.