‘he state is called God’s Own Country, but it can do with tips on how to retain its populace and attract long-term capital
AST WEEK MY COLLEAGUE, Siddharth and I landed in Kochi’s Nedumbaserry airport on our wayto atown called Valapad. Believe ifyou will, but it was for a client meeting. The only thing in that town was the client. Not unlike Bentonville and Walmart.
I’ve been travelling to Kerala since I was a toddler and I had never heard of the place. We land at 9-15 and we have an 11 am session with the CMD and all those who directly report to him. We can’t be late. Sid asks very confidently at the prepaid counter for a car to Valapad, just to check for familiarity. He isn’t sure from the transaction, so he asks whether the driver knows Valapad? “Ohh, yes, yes. Driver knows very well,” came the answer, without skipping a beat. Then he asks if he would know the client’s office. “Ohh, yes yes… very well.” So we were on our way.
We get into the car. Sid is still not very convinced, so he asks the driver in his inimitable style, “How long does it take to Valapad?” Anywhere between three and four hours, we are told. (We know it’s not more than 90 minutes.)
Finally it turns out that Sid had to navigate him all the way to Valapad on his GPS and keephimona tight leash — with my broken Malayalam — within the boundaries of safe and legal driving.
The incident from that morning left us definitely irritated but got us to introspect as well. We were chatting on the way back and concluded that it must have been socialism at work. What did it take to shift us to adriverwho knew Valapad? No, that wouldn’t work. That driver had to book that fare. Damn whether he knew the place, or even to drive.
So, I have forever wondered, for an Indian state that boasts some of the world’s best social and human indicators, why Kerala has remained an economic laggard. Why has it not attracted serious capital since Independence? It has always produced some seriously talented folk. Why did they all leave? Why has it been unable to create jobs to provide its very bright and educated young people?
Maybe we need to look beyond the social and human in
dices. I’ve said this before and I will say it again for good measure: Kerala may be God’s Own Country but when the Creator wants to chill, he probably goes to Goa. I wonder whether He would consider, “His own country” to put in long-term capital?
God’s Own Country was a clever reference to the landscape. It is breathtaking and it was indeed God’s gift.
I wonder what instructions God gave to the people running “His country”. Did He tell them that customers do matter? That engagement is a key element in building an economy? That chemistry is important to people who bring in long-term capital to the state?
I keep hearing from the locals about how the state provides people who are intelligent, highly-skilled and of high integrity. I cannot disagree from experience. But these are only ‘hygiene’ factors to creating an attractive economic ecosystem.
Bangalore became the Mecca of the job-seeker and the international investor in the 90s. This was not only because ofits climate, but also because it had a welcoming, hospitable core and an engaging style. I still carry fond memories of how RTO officials put me at ease when I first went there in October 1991.1 was pleasantly surprised and grateful that an Indian city held out hope for the future.
It wasn’t as though Karnataka had economically evolved to the level where it could afford to be less socialistic. It was still finding its feet. Bangalore was the new kid on the block. It didn’t stop them from offering engagement and empathy.
I think God’s Own Country can do with a few neighbourly tips. What say? ED
TheauthorispresidentandCKO, EQUiTOR Value Advisor