Industry backs Rajini view on political stir, agitations hurting Tamil Nadu

Film star Rajinikanth gestures to his fans in Chennai. (Photo: PTI)
Film star and politician Rajinikanth's comment that too many protests would make Tamil Nadu a graveyard has drawn flak from  political parties but received support from  industry. 

T V Mohandas Pai, chairman of Manipal Global Education and former director of Infosys, backed the veteran actor, asking if such agitations would invite investments or help job creation. 

Industrialists are of the view that proper study should be done and the pollution issue could be addressed rather than directly closing down the facility.

Rajinikanth, who announced his entry into politics last year, made the comment after his visit to Thoothukudi, where protests against a copper smelter turned violent, killing at least 13 protesters last week. He added that the agitation was hijacked by anti-social elements and so resulted in violence, similar to what happened during the Jallikattu agitation in Marina Beach, Chennai, last year.

The southern superstar was criticised by the principal Tamil opposition party Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's (DMK) Working President M K Stalin and Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) leader T T V Dhinakaran for not being tactful in dealing with the sensitive issue. 

Mohandas Pai, responding to the news in his twitter account, commented: "...with such agitations who will invest, create jobs?"

Ar Rm Arun, chairman, of the Tamil Nadu State Council of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said, "When Tamil Nadu is attempting to increase investments in the State, it’s necessary to present progressive governance (entailing time-bound one-stop approvals, transparency in pollution control norms, conducive infrastructure and effective labor policies), while also encouraging corporates to adopt neighboring societies." 

"All concerned have to understand that violence of any sort is not good for mankind. With numerous rumours doing the rounds and sentiments being wounded, an independent expert committee has to be formed to gauge the pollution and advise necessary remedial actions to be immediately taken - ways & means to be found to eliminate any pollution or threat to life that may be present," he said.

All stakeholders, whether the government, political parties, corporates, employees or the public at large, need to be made accountable for their actions to bring inclusive development to the state, rather than promoting vested interests. It’s necessary to move away from populist measures that don’t bring about sustaining long-term results.

Another veteran industrialist, who is also an angel investor from Tamil Nadu, said on the condition of anonymity that proper data related to alleged pollution from the Sterlite plant has to be assessed by an independent agency and the information has to be made public. Once there is data that indicates more pollution than norms allow, technology can be used to address problems, he suggested. The operations of copper smelter plants in other nations could also be studied, he added.

"Continuous agitations and lack of stability and clarity on policies are dampening Tamil Nadu's reputation as an industry-friendly, stable state for investment," said another angel investor and advisor to entrepreneurs. 

Tamil Nadu was one among the most industry-friendly states in the country till recent times. Lack of stability since December 2015 floods due to a fractured polity and mass agitations has hurt the state. Major industries from other states did not participate in a programme organised by a Tamil industry body, which shows that interest in the State is declining, he added.

Tamil Nadu has seen some major public agitations in the recent past, making it one of the most restive states in the country.

Going by official data, the state reported 20,450 agitations in 2015. Though the number was less by 500 compared to the total number of protests the previous year, the state was still leading the country with Punjab (13,089), Uttarakhand (10,477) and Delhi (10,039) trailing behind. Political parties organised 8,312 agitations, again the highest among all states, followed by government employees, labour organisations, students and communal groups. In 2016, Tamil Nadu retained its pole position with 47 protests a day or 25 per cent of all protests, according to reports quoting Bureau of Police Research and Development (BP&RD).

Tamil Nadu has a history of high-profile political movements, from anti-Hindi language agitations that started in the pre-Independence era and still continue in different pockets, to public expressions of solidarity with Tamils in Sri Lanka to Jallikattu. National Eligibility and Entrance Test, bus fare hike, farm loan waiver, and Cauvery water sharing have flared tensions in the state lately. These might have been short but repeatedly brought many parts of the state, including the capital city of Chennai to a halt.

There were long protests held in Idinthakarai, a coastal village, against the expansion of nuclear power plants in Kudankulam, a protest against GAIL's gas pipeline project, and opposition to methane projects, hydrocarbon projects and a huge neutrino observatory during the last few years.

The Sterlite smelter issue has been brewing for over two decades but flared up to this extent for the first time. 13 lives were lost and hundreds have been injured during the agitation. The protesters want the factory to close as they fear it is hazardous. Surprisingly, the state government and the opposition are on the same page.

Tamil Nadu received less than one per cent or Rs 31.31 billion of the Rs 3.95 trillion investments attracted by various states in the country in 2017. This may be seen as a reflection of the prevailing stalemate over political and other issues in the state.

From being the top investment destination a few years back, Tamil Nadu has been relegated to the 12th place, even beyond states like West Bengal and Odisha. This should be a cause of concern to all, said industry experts.

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel