Some weeks ago, when leading industrialist Adi Godrej ventured to criticise the Maharashtra government’s beef ban, I believe he was not concerned merely about farmers and butchers in the state who have been affected by this policy.
There is a growing concern among the state’s entrepreneurs and economists about the complete failure of the current dispensation to understand the connection between agriculture and industry and Godrej was clearly connecting the dots and drawing the attention of the government to the relation between production and productivity which is currently at an all-time low in Maharashtra.
There has been no new investment to speak of in months, even those who came in with great fanfare are on the verge of winding up and venturing towards greener pastures. Now, that is happening because – there is no way this can be said in kinder words – the current dispensation is clueless about both agriculture and industry.
All that the two parties in government understand is trade – malls and multiplexes, real estate and builders. In fact, while the BJP is more preoccupied with real estate, the Shiv Sena does not even know the value of that commodity – they only know builders and how to deal and partner with them in government.
Which is why while it took several years for the previous regime to become embroiled in various scams, real estate or otherwise, it has taken former revenue minister Eknath Khadse less than two years to get entangled in a conflict of interest case with regard to undue interest in land belonging to the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation – I believe it is the value of that land and not the industry it could generate that would have been of primary interest. (Similar speculative buying is happening in Nagpur where the government is promoting MIHAN – the Multi-modal International Hub and Airport of Nagpur. Land is being snapped up like hot cakes. But except for Ramdev Baba’s Patanjali, there has been no enterprise to speak of at this biggest SEZ in Asia).
Taking action against Khadse would not have been easy for Devendra Fadnavis or even Narendra Modi particularly in view of the fact that Khadse is a Leva-Patidar, a third generation migrant from Gujarat, and the Patels in that state are currently in the midst of an intense agitation against injustices to their community. The action against Khadse gets compounded by the fact that similar conflict of interest exposes at the Centre and in states ruled by the BJP did not bring forth any action by any of the governments concerned.
But while one must appreciate the swift action by Fadnavis in stemming the rot in his government, the fact remains that disappointment runs deep among investors that the dispensation understands little but the tertiary sectors of the economy – and perhaps not even that as much as they should.
For example, many co-operative banks are mushrooming across the state – and they are shutting down equally fast. That is because the promoters of these banks are mostly BJP functionaries and they are blindly aping the Congress in the mistaken belief that a co-operative institute is all you need to keep yourself politically afloat as the Congress has done for decades.
But, as senior journalist Kumar Ketkar tells me, the Congress understood well the primary importance of agriculture and industry and facilitated the process of both production and productivity. “All that these newer co-operative banks are doing is to give out car and housing loans. That again is trade, not industry. So, it is no surprise they are failing left, right and centre.”
But, when I spoke to a real estate agent, he was dismissive of the government’s ability to understand even this tertiary sector of the economy. “Every morning, I open my office and wait anxiously for at least one or two clients who may come looking for rentals, if not outright sales of real estate. I am lucky if I get a couple. Most of the days, I am disappointed.”
So what is going wrong? “It is not enough to just liberate land and build a few houses,” he says. “We have plenty of built-up area which is under lock and key. There must be industry to drive the demand – industry will create jobs, jobs will raise incomes and bring people to us looking for better homes. But everything is at a standstill at the moment.”
Standstill. That absence of motion all across doesn’t augur well for the future.