Nine months back, when the Tata group chairman Ratan Tata unveiled the US$2,500 small car--Tata Nano--all eyes had turned to India. His Indica, branded as Rover in the U.K., may have drawn bad reviews some six years back, but Nano was a lot different. Tata Motors proved that it had clearly moved up the quality and technology ladder. The company used the latest technology to bring down costs, while producing this state-of-the-art mini.
Today, all eyes have turned to India and Nano for quite another reason. The opposition party--Trinamool Congress-–has been staging protests over alleged demands of the farmers who had been displaced by the Nano project in Singur, West Bengal. Ratan Tata has threatened to withdraw his US$340 million (Rs 1,500 crore) investment from the state and move to a more investor-friendly location.
The Indian middle-class is wondering whether it will see Nano on roads soon or not. The other question on its mind is: whether Tata will be able to keep its US$2,500 promise or not. After all, India has been witnessing inflation rates of over 10 percent for the last few months. The odds before Tata's Nano are aplenty.
What's even more discomforting is the fact that political forces in India still can't look at the big picture-–denying a state and its people development in the name of (petty) political interests.
While politics and technology appear to be completely dissimilar words, in India there appears to be a strange correlation between these two words. Last month, I had filed a story-–"Corruption slowing India's e-government growth". It talks about how corruption is the biggest enemy of e-governance. While Indian IT companies are successfully implementing e-government projects all across the world, in their home-country the situation is quite different. Here, politicians fear losing control with the successful implementation of e-government projects. As a result, many of these Indian IT companies often don't have much say in matters concerning implementation of large e-government projects.
Similarly, while the world is praising Tata and its US$2,500 car, the company is facing harassment from its own political leaders. Was it so difficult to give land to this project without causing so much hullabaloo?
Indian politicians need a thorough change in mindset. It's unfortunate that every issue must be raked up for political interests-–whether it's the Nano or the nuclear deal. Political leaders need to look beyond their professional goals and be supportive towards the technology that our industry creates. In today's globalized environment, this can not only prove a boon to India but to the world at large-–which is increasingly relying on India for high-tech products as well as the technology that goes into delivering products and services.
The loss is clearly West Bengal's. Due to the hostile political environment, Infosys too is reconsidering its plan to expand in the state. Earlier, it had announced that it would establish a development center in the city of Kolkata at the cost of US$112 million (Rs 500 crore). And if Tata Motors walks out of Singur, this would be the sourest incident in the country's post-liberalization era.