These are fun times in Andhra Pradesh. In sharp contrast to the deep anxiety that had set in following the bifurcation of the State in 2014, it’s now in pursuit of happiness. The tech-savvy Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, with the spring back in his step, is leading the way with Vision-2029 — by when he wants AP to top the Happiness Index — and his success mantra for the same seems to be to combine business with pleasure.
The business part of it got a fillip last week with the State coming first in the Ease of Doing Business Rankings along with its sibling Telangana, which leaped to the top from a lowly 13th place last year. Naturally, the Chief Minister, who holds the industries portfolio himself, was more than happy.
In the last two-and-a-half years, MoUs have been inked with various companies which proposed about 375 projects with an estimated investment of `3,31,650 crore, the government claimed. It’s true that proposals are pouring in, but a cursory glance at the data available with the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion shows wide variance between entrepreneurial intention and implementation. Expectedly so, given the lack of infrastructure in the residuary State. And, it is reflected in direct employment created by MSMEs and Large and Mega Industries. If around 43,000 jobs have been generated in these two categories this fiscal so far, the figure is a little over one lakh in 2015-16. But then, in economy as in politics, perceptions matter and on this score, the great expectations of Navyaandhra, the government hopes, will keep the people happy. The euphoria over the business ranking, though, evaporated in no time. Cupid’s arrow, wielded perhaps by an overenthusiastic babu, misfired. All hell broke loose amid reports that the government had given the go ahead to an International Beach Love Festival, complete with pop star Shakira’s jig, in Vizag.
The spicy details of arrangements for a ‘private beach’ for about 9,000-10,000 couples from abroad to celebrate love coinciding with the Valentine’s Day, triggered a wave of protests from the ruling TDP’s ally, the BJP and its Sangh affiliates to the main Opposition YSR Congress and even the progressive Leftists at what was seen as an ‘assault’ on Telugu culture. What followed was a comedy of errors with one official claiming the festival, proposed by a Mumbai-based event management company, was on and another asserting otherwise. The ‘toxic’ cultural invasion, the latter assured, wasn’t given the green signal.
After tying itself up in knots, the government finally formed a panel to examine the proposal, billed as one more step to put Vizag on the global map, and trim it appropriately.
The gem of an idea that is, perhaps, had its genesis in the government’s penchant for conducting festivals. Packed as the Telugu calendar is with traditional festivals, the Chandrababu Naidu dispensation is packing in more. Having turned all major festivals into official celebrations — recall the Godavari Pushkarams, Krishna Pushkarams, Dasara, Christmas, Ramzan et al — with gift hampers to the poor, the government has not been giving a breather to the aam aadmi! So, we had the youth festivals, the Amaravati shopping festival, the Rottela Panduga (traditional but transformed), the Happy Sunday and now, the proposed International Kuchipudi and Music Festival (scheduled next month) and last but not the least, cooking competitions and food festivals. The regional cooking competition is to be held in Vizag on Nov 8 followed by a State level food festival and next, a national level food festival! All ostensibly to promote Brand Amaravati. To give it a spiritual touch and obviously get over the eminently forgettable Love festival fiasco, the Chief Minister has expressed his desire to invite the Dalai Lama to conduct the Buddhist Kalachakra ceremony at Amaravati. One fails to understand the logic of the festival spree. For instance, the Amaravati shopping festival was, by any stretch of imagination, a big let down. Spare a thought for the wallet of the middle class!
Incidentally, Singapore too hosts one festival too many. This month, it is hosting about six — including an arts festival, river festival and, a writers’ festival. But, Andhra is no Singapore, not yet. The government could use its resources for better things. Alongside the Ease of Business Doing Rankings, the NITI Aayog’s report on farmer-friendly policies has put the State in the seventh place. Similarly, a report by the Centre for Economic and Social Studies showed that 93 per cent of farmers in the State are slipping into debt trap, clearly proving that agriculture is no longer profitable. The government can ignore this reality only at its peril — the impending civic elections could well be a litmus test, a referendum of sorts on the administration. The YSRC is already gearing up, with its chief Jagan Mohan Reddy, making the special category status an issue, blowing the war bugle from, where else, but Vizag! And, actor Pawan Kalyan too waiting to jump in.
Deputy Resident Editor, Andhra Pradesh