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Tharoor and Thiruvananthapuram


Shashi Tharoor is the Congress candidate for MP from Thiruvananthapuram (TVM). I am intrigued, and excited. And for someone who think politics is best left to politicians, that is saying a lot.

Honestly, I don’t know much about him. But I don’t care. Here is a man who is capable, has seen the world and if he wants to be corrupt, has plenty of bigger opportunities elsewhere. So I am inclined to trust his motives, and his promises.

Kerala is, quite frankly, a mess. Since I started up on my entrepreneurial path a little while ago, I have been thinking of Kerala every single day. I am trying to set up some part of my business in India, and quite naturally, I had decided on Kerala. Every one who is a friend, and who decided to consider me a friend just so they can advise me – told me that would be a very stupid decision.

If you want work done, set it up in Tamil Nadu or Karnataka, even if it is just a stone’s throw away from the Kerala border. You can even employ Malayalees if you like – they will work as long as they are outside of Kerala. But do not, under any circumstance, start a venture in Kerala.

I have seen time and again that you cannot have sustainable development without a healthy dose of entrepreneurship. And I wanted to do my bit in bringing it to Kerala. I have a dream. And now I am asked to throw it all away, if I want to survive. I toss and turn in bed every night, trying to choose between my business sense and my patriotism. Let’s not wonder now whether it is really patriotism or the thought of a beach-villa-cum-office that I am more unwilling to sacrifice. In any case, the point is – when it comes to running a business, setting up a venture, or sometimes, just getting things done – Kerala ranks right at the bottom. You could blame it on incompetent politicians, our communist legacy, the risk-averse culture or just the general laziness of the people.

Finally, I see a ray of hope.

I don’t know whether Shashi Tharoor will or can change anything. He is a proud Indian, as he made clear from his many writings, but as I am digging through his book (which I quite coincidentally picked up last week), I see no pride in being a Keralite. He speaks no Malayalam, and despite the occasional reference to compulsory holidays he had to endure with parents, there is not much in there about Kerala. So why did he choose TVM of all places?

It is quite an interesting city, really. Every time I visit the city, I never fail to visit the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple . I was there just this Jan, and just for the beauty and tranquillity of the temple, I fell a little in love with the city. But what else is there to talk about TVM?

There is always a random group of people protesting in front of the secretariat. That will block traffic, so there is inevitably a traffic jam. Fish is very cheap and tasty. Malayalam, as it is spoken here and nowhere else, has the same word for baby and shit – perhaps something to do with frustrated mothers? It is still an old city, losing out to cities like Kochi and Trichur, when it comes to the chic-factor. Some of the streets are impeccably clean, while others are unbelievably dirty. There is a huge monstrous piece of art, shaped like a woman, which lies on the Shankumukham beach, while it is close to impossible to find even a single local woman reclining in a relaxed fashion on any of TVM’s beautiful beaches.

I bet all these had nothing to do Tharoor’s choice of TVM, but perhaps it doesn’t matter. As long as he does something, something useful, I can live with not knowing why.

So, what exactly is Tharoor planning for our dear TVM?

1. The Vizhinjam port project. Once complete, the port will be able to handle over four million containers annually and would create 5,000 direct and 150,000 indirect jobs. I believe it is essential for Thiruvananthapuram to support this idea. But we must fight for the displaced people from the Vizhinjam port trust area who must not become the victims of development.

It’s about time Kerala had a port of global standards, but as I read this, the first thing that comes to mind is protesting people. It reminds me of Smartcity where people are displaced to make room for this business park, which led to innumerable protests and discussions, and which now doesn’t seem to house that many companies or employ enough people. Good idea, bad execution. Hope we don’t go that same path again.

I wish Tharoor would elaborate more on the how, and not just the what.

2. Create a high court bench in TVM
Honestly, can someone tell me why I should care about this?

3. Development of world-class facilities
Again, should I care so much? How would a convention centre help the masses?

4. Make TVM the capital of India’s biodiversity
I am marginally excited. Good research is always great, but from what I have heard about what goes on in ISRO, may be its not just about establishing these institutes but doing something about what goes on inside them.

5. An education capital for the region – equivalent of Boston or Cambridge in America
Now he’s got me listening. This is fantastic, and if he can pull this one off, it would be worth it. This is actually something that fits in well with Kerala’s culture. Somehow the idea of a university (or centres of learning), and its campus built on the sea, with students and professors having Socratic conversations on the beach has always caught my imagination.

6 – n: Build a knowledge economy, attract and use NRI funds for the state’s development, improve civic facilities (do MPs do this?), preservation of the great heritage buildings, ..the list goes on, and it is impressive.

I particularly like this:

“Why can’t processions be obliged to march in single file on the side of the road, rather than occupying the entire carriageway? Why can’t megaphones and loudspeakers be restricted to specific areas and times? Why should agitators be allowed to paralyze the lives, work, and travel of ordinary people going about their business?”

May be it is just my cynicism, but I am inclined to reply, “Hello!? Have you been to Kerala? Have you met a Malayalee?”.

“the national legislature should take an interest in using the country’s laws to benefit the common man and woman who wishes to lead their lives in peace.”

Some of the best memories in my schooldays were of days where the classes had to be cancelled because of strikes, and we could do whatever we wanted. Well, now that its next generation’s turn, I am totally for minimal disruption!

On a more serious note, Tharoor is talking about changing the very fabric of our culture, the character of the people. Ambitious indeed, but how realistic is it?

This sounds good though:

“I will publish details regularly of my actions and initiatives, provide full and audited accounts of the expenditure of MPLADS funds, and report regularly to the people about progress or lack thereof on the issues relating to their well-being. If Thiruvananthapuram is to be a global city of the 21st century, it deserves an MP who upholds the highest global standards of today.”

Now, should I bet on this guy and start my business in Kerala? May be, may be not. But I would vote for him, if I could. There is a lot less to lose with that one.

If you could vote, I hope you would too. If nothing, Tharoor might write a good book about Kerala and its development. That’s more than some of our previous MPs have achieved for us.

Photo courtesy: ritesh3

Posted in India on March 23, 2009

11 Responses

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  1. Madhavan says

    Very good analysis and well written. Nice job :-)


  2. GWBE says

    I am quite curious to know what it is that you are planning to start (the business) in Kerala. I am toying with an idea myself – but execution put on hold for another 5-6 years. All the best to you.

    I didn’t know that Tharoor couldn’t speak Malayalam – that’s gonna cost him precious. Though 100% literate, Kerala will not be very kind to someone who calls himself a Malayalee and does not speak the language – at least that’s my gut feeling. A good chuck of the population wouldn’t understand his Oxford english – I hope he’s using a translator for his speeches. But yes, I am keen for him to win too. Mookkila rajyathe murimookkan raajavu syndrome maybe.

  3. GWBE says

    Missed out – Gook luck on your venture!

  4. Surya says

    Hey GWBE, good to hear from ya! been a long time, isn’t it?

    It does take a long time to go from idea to execution. I had been toying with mine for a long time before I decided to take the plunge. Thanks for the wishes.

    PS. you will have to hold on to your curiosity just a bit longer. The biz is in stealth mode right now..

  5. Nikhil Narayanan says

    First time here.Came via GWBE’s Google Shared.

    Shashi Tharoor speaks good Malayalam.
    I have seen a Jeevan TV interview and a press conference.These videos seem to have been taken off Youtube.(some copyright issues)

    His love for Kerala is evident from his writings in the Hindu’s Sunday Magazine.Trust me, most of his columns there had a mention of Kerala or Malayalees.

    I sincerely hope his plans become reality.

  6. Nikhil Narayanan says

    Good luck with your venture.:-)


  7. Gauri says

    Tharoor became a resident of Dubai (instead of India) with his company Afras Ventures registered in dubai but will do business in india. Why can he not serve the people of kerala without a government post ? He obviously does not want to pay taxes in India, but expects us taxpayers to foot his cushy retirement in India as MP or even minister ?

    Being a proud Indian and Malyalee ??? Pls dont be fooled by psudo talk. This is a man who berates Indian culture and wants us to ape Americans in everything…Ofcourse he walks his talk…lived in America / Europe almost all his life….worked for americans in a job at UN for last 30 years….dumped his Indian wife for an American……

    and now he says he is joing Indian politics to clean us Indians up and teach us the American way of doing things….he says he will do service to the poor and needly of Kerala by explaing their problems in English in Parliment…yes !!! maybe his british accent will help !!

    Guys !!! read between the lines – he had said in 2001 he needed the UN job to maintain his Manhattan aptmt…now aging and close to retirement, he needs a cushy political job to keep his Coke company PR and free travel and housing perks so that he can holiday with his American wife and run his business in Dubai…..

    Great !!! Rule to remember -all you need is to be a smart looking glib talker to fool even smart people. Also it helps if you have strong family american/eruopean connections (like wife / daughter / Girl Frd etc) as do our dear PM ; PM (behind the scene) & not PM by choise.

    We all know how the east india company conqured india. You have to give it to them – they were smarter, better looking, educated abroad and knew what we Indians needed. I wonder if we would have been better off still being a colony of England ???? maybe we are moving again towards is a circle….JAI HO !!

  8. scorpiogenius says

    Well written.

    You’ve caught some of the pionts in the vision Dr. Tharoor has outlined for Trivandrum. Forget the sceptics, this is the first time a candidate appeared serious about Trivandrum.

    You mentioned Tvm as being an old city. Know why? because of decades of sending good for nothing donkeys to New Delhi who never opened their sweet mouths for the city. Any investment planned for the city ends up in other parts of Kerala. Tvm always lacked the lobbying power, surprising for a capital city, and hence the state of affairs as you see it now.

    But with Tharoor, we sincerely hope the story to end. He has the lobbying power, grey cells and seemingly has the willpower to translate the dreams to reality. We may be proved wrong in 5 yrs time, but with the choices of candidates we have Dr. Tharoor is by far the best.

    So why not Tharoor this time? Its worth taking the risk. Perhaps he might become the reason for you to invest in Kerala!

  9. pradeep says

    I only hope people like Tharoor are given enough room by the established guys to do good for the society. I am from Tvm and I could very much related to the points in your post.

  10. Surya says

    Thanks for your comments guys.

    Nikhil: Yes, after this post, many people pointed out to me that he speaks Malayalam. My post was based on the book I am reading now, “Bookless in Baghdad”. Guess its been a while since he wrote it, and has learnt Malayalam in the time after. Good for him, I say!

    Gauri, I do think you are taking it to an extreme. And from Tharoor’s perspectice, it can’t be worth joining politics in Kerala if you are genuinely not interesting in making a difference. anyways, each to their own opinions, guess that’s why we have elections..:)

    Scorpiogenius: I am not sure the only reason TVM remained old is lack of lobbying power. I do think there is a difference in the attitudes of people. Even now, people consider a government job much better than a job in a private company, let alone entrepreneurship. Legacy and attitudes of the common man are also to blame. I agree though, Tharoor is definitely a risk worth taking.

    Pradeep, glad you can relate to the post – at least I am not that far off from reality in my observations as an outsider..:)

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