Thursday, December 31, 2009

Learning from Other States........

When a Hartal was declared in Kerala on Dec 28,2009 by the BMS (Yes, not too many of us know about it, it is the Sangh Parivar's labour union), the usual cacophony of voices in the media and on many a blog broke out decrying Kerala's "Harthal culture". Many a "Hartal Counter" ticked over and the critics went back to slumber, feeling smug at having done their civic duty. Of course, the usual line would have been "look at Bangalore or Hyderabad, and learn from them", but this time that common refrain was curiously absent or rare.

The usual level of smugness that many non-resident keralites (the "I-work-in-Hyderabad/Bangalore and we don't have hartals here" brigade) was kind of spoilt by the three week long shut down that Hyderabad has been experiencing over the Telengana issue. The poster-child for many of how a city can evolve into an IT hub even when much of the surrounding State continues to languish in abject poverty, Hyderbad's IT industry, the fourth biggest in India, has been almost paralysed as employees could not reach their offices on many days. So much so that many top firms have either put up key staff at hotels near the IT parks or announced holidays altogether. CII's flagship event which had been scheduled at Hyderabad, was shifted helter-skelter to Chennai. And to top it all off, the US has issued a travel advisory against travelling to Andhra Pradesh, which never fails to proudly show-case Microsoft, Google, CSC et al as its top investors.

And if you think the situation south of the border in Bengaluru is any better, you would be very wrong. I just got off the phone with a close friend in India's IT Capital who was telling me that crowds have been going berserk after the death of Kannada film star. The city has got an unwelcome sense of deja vu when the ugly scenes witnessed after the death of another film personality were repeated, almost as if someone was shooting a faithful sequel. Offices and shops were stoned, cars burned and roads blocked. Even more bizarrely, there were suicides over the filmstar's death by cardiac arrest.


My friend told me that posters of the late star have been put up in front of IT parks and malls, in the hope of avoiding a few well aimed stones. Moreover, some buildings have put up nets as a final defense. Apparently, if you don't have a stock of Kannada CDs in your car when you are stopped by a mob, there is a significant risk of having the windscreen bashed in. Cosmopolitan city, indeed!

While I have all respect for the fallen matinee idol and the need for self-determination felt by a section of AP, the point is that it is downright dumb to point out only Kerala as a state of frequent disruptions. Strike actions are prevalent everywhere, most notably in the NCR and Mumbai (the Shiva Sena and the MNS being the star performers, of course!). And it seems even more of a travesty when malayalees single out their own home state for blame.

Over the last few years, the amount of disruption to daily life and industry from strikes have drastically declined in Kerala. In fact, as Dr Thomas Issac pointed out at the India IT Summit 2009 in Trivandrum recently, Kerala experienced fewer man-days lost due to political disruptions than many States which are often show-cased as the champions of industry. Technopark, which is the largest employer in Kerala, experienced zero disruption, which is a lot better than what Electronics City, Whitefield or Gachibowli can claim.

Rather than sitting around and complaining, why not we venture out on a strike day and prove these critics wrong? I was out on Dec 29th, and the last time I checked my head was still where it belongs. No one stoned my car or broke my head. There were plenty of cars and bikes out on Trivandrum's roads. KSRTC did a great job running many of its services (the Volvos stayed off the roads, of course!) and the major institutions like Technopark and VSSC operated as usual. In fact, the German Ambassador to India visited Technopark on the same day and was very impressed by Kerala's IT hub. Trivandrum's a city of 1.5 million people, I am sure a few hundred activists cannot be everywhere at the same time to force a shut down.

The usual response to a Hartal is to kick off our shoes and relax on an un-declared holiday. In Cochin, the best way to realize there was a hartal or general strike the next day was to see long queues in front of the local liquor shop on a week-day evening. And if one's not in Kerala, but in Bengaluru, Dufai or the United States of America, the usual response is a bunch of holier-than-thou criticism of how things back at home have to improve and how the idiots still living in Kerala should learn from other States.

Let's stop all that and see if we can do our bit to make things better. And perhaps, other States will learn this too from us as they have learnt so much!


  1. Ajay, this is one of the best posts you've written here. Though out Hartal culture is something I wish we could erase off pretty soon (too tall a hope in our democracy, I know) the recent Hyderabad and Bangalore incidents.

    During the 'Rajkumar bandh' in B'lore one of my friends had to spend 2 days in his room without water! I donno how things are spanning out after the Vishnuvardhan heart attack but I guess the 'mourning' would be similar. It will be a shudder to think about how Chennai will react when the time is up for God Rajni!

    Happy New Year Ajay, and I'm sure 2010 and the forthcoming decade will see better times for Trivandrum and Kerala. :)

  2. Ajay, a very good post. Really true. Is it possible for us, the public to get together, sign petitions or meet up and get something done legally against the political parties which hold hartals? We could publish the public opinion in all leading newspapers in Kerala. Or do you feel its already been tried and wont work? Do let us know

  3. The reason for few hartals during the past years could be that the guys who used to call hartal frequently are in power. Need to wait for next govt for statistics to catch up :-).
    I do remeber my school days would love for congress to be in power. 4 to 5 SFI chettans from nearby colleges would come & liberate us from school. the reasons would be many . Dont even remember as there was hardly anything worth remembering.

    Also 2 cents - free opinion as u may call.The way we should be going ahead should be by fixing our shortcomings and not by showing others in bad light. I think perceptions created without any basis wont hang for decades. Over years that changes even if media houses may paint red. One look at the many analyst reports of industrial status in bengal (pre mamta era)shows how perceptions are created.

  4. Scorpio and Soorya, thanks for the inputs!

    Filing PILs against strikes has been tried before and the results have not been very effective. The only real solution, IMHO, is to start going out and stop cooperating with such strikes on a individual basis. Sooner rather than later, the political parties will understand that they need to find new forms of political expression.

    Mr Anonymous, whoever you are, I think you have missed the whole point. My post is not about the fact that hartals have vanished from Kerala but about the fact that many of us are too cynical about the political system and Kerala in general. Especially since all of us owe so much to the State for giving such high quality of life.

    The intention is not to show Hyderabad or Bengaluru in a bad light, it is to point out that Kerala should not be singled out. And not by Keralites. One glance at the kind of strike actions being perpetrated in Karnataka, Maharastra or Rajasthan is good enough to convince anyone that Kerala is more sane than most other States.

    Finally, it is easy to argue that the situation is better because the LDF is in power but the statistics on loss of man-days are broadly the same over the last decade when both fronts ruled the State.

    Oh, I forgot, it is because most people are looking for an excuse to bunk class and work that strikes and hartals are so effective. Eventhough student agitations, especially minor ones, need not be equated to general strikes, if all of us chose to go to work and not sit home and yet complain, there would be a lot fewer hartals soon.

    P.S. - Next time, do sign in and comment.

  5. Well was this article in favour of Hartal culture or against it?
    Should Malyalis be happy that their state is Hartal free of should they learn from other states how to go for Hartal and disruption of Business.

    I would say that we should see a bigger picture, rather than talking about states, lets talk about the nation. Kerala should be proud that such disruptions to normal life and business do not happen there and the nation does not have to face humiliation because of that, as were the cases with other states and cities in recent past.

  6. Kerala experienced fewer man-days lost due to political disruptions than many States which are often show-cased as the champions of industry. Technopark, which is the largest employer in Kerala, experienced zero disruption, which is a lot better than what Electronics City, Whitefield or Gachibowli can claim.

    - Nice to hear this.

    On the 29th of Dec, when I was watching news, I also felt very happy to hear that there were vehicles on the road on a day of bandh in Kerala.

    As always, a very positive note from you. :)

  7. Ajay,
    This was kind of an eye opener for me too. When I started blogging, my intention was to stand different by highlighting more of positives of our state. But somewhere I got caught in the flow and wrote 3 completely negative posts about Kerala. :(

    By reading this, I have decided to get back to my flow and stop cribbing about our land.

    Thnx for being always positive, my friend.

  8. Non-resident keralites point out "look at bangalore-Hyderabad" not to belittle their home state.It is cause they feel pained to see the nonsense that happens in the name of hartal or bandh or whatever.When someone thinks of IT/medical services/education hub - Kochi or trivandrum is NOT the frst name that comes to the mind.Its bangalore,chennai Hyderabad...But when you have been in these places for a few years you realise that Kerala has in it to beat them all and be the best,if only it werent for these hartals,power cuts,bad roads,etc etc etc.
    Isnt it a shame that you point out see Hyderabad and Bangalore were also disrupted.How many disruptions in a year?Can you even compare?Are these evn for some worthy causes?
    No use hating the ones who point out mistakes,better to try and correct the mistakes,isnt it?

  9. Lol, judging by the number of "anonymous" authors that have popped up to comment here, I guess my words have struck a few sets of raw nerves in the blogosphere and beyond! That was the intention, in part.

    The point that all you anonymous-es are missing out, is that I am not glorifying Kerala or Trivandrum.

    Rather, I am saying that rather than single our own home-state and city out for blame, in comparison to others, why not be constructive and suggest the ways and means to get Trivandrum to the same magnitude in IT as a Pune or Hyderabad?

    I don't hate any of those folks who belly-ache about Kerala all day long, I just feel sorry for themselves. Not only do they not have the genuine interest to be constructive, they seem to forget that they are poking fun at themselves when they hee-haw at hartals in Kerala. After all, having spent a few years in some random IT company in Bangalore or Hyderabad does not liberate a Keralite of his or her roots, does it?

    Sadly, it is this culture of cynical criticism by its diaspora which would have hurt Kerala's image as an investment destination than hartals et al. After all, if an investor hears a Keralite criticising his own State, will he look any further for a reason NOT to invest?

    And yes, Mr Anonymous-just-above, what power cuts are you talking about? I am sure that you know that Kerala, especially Trivandrum, has less power disruptions than, say, Chennai or Bangalore. Last year, Chennai had six-eight hours of power outages per day. Trivandrum had zero scheduled outages and at most, 30 minutes a day, at the height of the summer when the hydel reservoirs were at their lowest. Perhaps, in the IT park that you work in with its 100% DG backup, you failed to notice this fact?

    Kerala has scored top marks for the quality of its infrastructure in a number of surveys in 2008 and 2009, higher than States like Karnataka or Gujarat. So what power cuts and bad roads are you talking about? Either you are very ill-informed or you belong to that brigade that I talked about - "I am not bothered about the truth, but Kerala sucks anyways!"

    And yet you wonder why we trail the other States?

    Pyrari - Thanks for your support, as always. Voices like yours and mine are too few and far in between at present, but I hope we can inspire a lot more folks like us to give positive PR to Kerala and promote investment here so that Keralites can stop becoming non-Resident soon!

  10. Hi Ajay,
    First time I am reading your blog when someone forwarded the above post to me. The forwarding email had very Leftist implications and I first assumed that your blog post was going to be in support of hartals in Kerala.
    First of all you could say that I am one of those in Bengaluru who give "bunch of holier-than-thou criticism of how things back at home have to improve ".
    You have compared Trivandrum with Hyderabad and Bengaluru. Maybe Technopark being in the capital city does not get affected as much as the other districts (I come from Kannur) but in my hometown normal work life is disrupted atleast once a month by a hartal call. Also Technopark(and IT companies) are like the goose that lays golden eggs for our state so no party wants to disturb it. In Kerala most districts are quite developed and comparable with Bangalore in terms of population density and cosmopolitan nature.
    I agree that the only way is to ignore the hartal calls but what does one do when schools and companies themselves shutdown? In bangalore companies come up with innovative ideas (like you ahve mentioned) to get on with work but in Kerala that doesn't seem to happen. Either the people in charge at these organizations have just become too lazy or they support the political party in question.
    Regarding the infrastructure definitely most parts of Kerala has better infrastructure than Bangalore.IMO this is more because Kerala has been geographically and climatically lucky. But is the government/people doing anything to ensure that it continues? Karnataka is reeling under power crisis and hence has introduced measures to increase use of solar panels, rainwater harvesting etc. When will we learn from Karnataka's mistakes and be proactive?

  11. @ Amrita - Thanks for writing in. Lol, it's interesting to note that my posts are getting forwarded! Do pass on the mail to me if possible.

    There is no arguing that hartals and strikes have disrupted life in Kerala in the past and continue to do so. However, while Trivandrum is on the whole less susceptible to these disruptions, it does not mean that even a Kannur or Kasargode is so beset with them that we need to single out Kerala as an example of political or labor militancy. That is the basic point underlying my posts, it is not to glorify hartals or such-like.

    The point is that hartals have to be rejected not just by young people like you or me, but by the majority of the society which anyway does not subscribe to them. As you said, hartals have become a convenient excuse to get an undeclared holiday. Condoning this attitude makes people as culpable as the hartal organizers.

    You may be surprised to note that companies in Technopark have even better policies and measures in place to deal with disruptions than those in Hyderabad or Bengaluru which has been proven by the recent turmoil in Hyderabad where companies have been forced to shut down.

    It is easy to write off the extent of our infrastructure coverage on favorable climate and geography. But what exactly is favorable in a State of coastal plains, hills and mountains as Kerala or in a climate which includes the heaviest rainfall in India? Kerala's excellent physical infrastructure and quality of life is a result of years of good governance (and yes, the Left has a very significant role in these aspects) and a relatively equitable social structure. This is why we don't see the abject social inequity in Kerala as we often witness in Karnataka or Andhra. Which in turn is the reason that the common people don't stone IT companies at each convenient occasion. Or that the infrastructure - roads, flyovers et al - don't stop at the limits of the big cities.

    The message is simple, Kerala has its problems but we also have a lot of achievements which other States are looking to follow, let's at least talk about both. By devoting some time to talk about the good things, we could help attract more investment to Kerala and help fix some of the shortcomings, in our own little way.



Thanks for your comment, I will take a look at it and put it up at the earliest.