Sanjaya Baru | From politics to business: All eyes are on Hyderabad


Hyderabad has been used to attracting national and international attention for a long time

From Rahul Gandhi to Amit Shah and Narendra Modi, top national politicians have been making their presence felt in Hyderabad this past month, even as Telangana’s chief minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao was busy testing the national political waters and the city’s poster boy, K.T. Rama Rao, was wooing global investors at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Hyderabad has been in the news across the worlds of politics and business.

The experience is not new. Hyderabad has been used to attracting national and international attention for a long time. However, today it’s on a roll and at the threshold of challenging competing cities like Bengaluru and Chennai, having shot past Kolkata long back as a centre of business, education and research.

 

Moving from Hyderabad to New Delhi three decades ago I had suggested to the corporate leadership of a national economic daily that had editions coming only out of the four metros, that they should launch a Hyderabad edition. A senior executive was dismissive. “Hyderabad gets the Bombay edition by lunchtime. There isn’t enough advertising and readership in that sleepy city for us to print locally.” It only took a couple of years more and the rise of P.V. Narasimha Rao as Prime Minister for the company to re-examine its decision and launch a city edition.

By the turn of the century, Hyderabad had begun to make its mark in the rapidly emerging businesses of information technology and pharmaceuticals. Till the 1980s, Hyderabad used to be home to many manufacturing industries but had lost ground to Pune and Chennai. More recently it is once again attracting new industries, especially in defence and aerospace.

 

Sometime in 1998 I received a call from the state’s finance secretary, Duvvuri Subba Rao (later to be governor of the Reserve Bank of India) requesting me to vet a draft of the “Andhra Pradesh: Vision 2020” report prepared by the global consulting firm McKinsey. I was impressed by the boldness of their vision for Hyderabad, but drew attention to the absence of any recognition of the unbalanced nature of the state’s development. By focusing far too much on Hyderabad and neglecting the development lags within the state, the report may well have contributed to the growing feeling of alienation in parts of the erstwhile state of Andhra Pradesh that contributed to its eventual break-up.

 

The AP Vision 2020 strategy was primarily focused on restoring to Hyderabad its status as a business hub. A status it had enjoyed for centuries. But it ignored the backwardness of the hinterland around. Even today, within the state of Telangana, it is necessary to disperse development to new growth centres, like Warangal and Nizamabad, reduce spending on subsidies but increase public investment in the state’s social and educational development, improving human capability indicators.

The credit for Hyderabad’s emergence as a major urban centre has to be accorded to a succession of state leaders, beginning with Jalagam Vengala Rao, who laid the foundation for business development in and around Hyderabad.

 

N. Chandrababu Naidu and Y.S. Rajashekhar Reddy built on that foundation. Having decided to focus on Hyderabad’s development, it was natural that the state government built an impressive ring road and a new airport. I was pleasantly surprised when, over two decades ago, I first heard the plan for a new airport at Shamshabad from then chief minister Chandrababu Naidu. We were seated together on a flight from

New Delhi to Hyderabad and the conversation through that journey was centred around Mr Naidu’s plans for the city.

“Draw a straight line from Dubai to Singapore,” Mr Naidu said to me. “Hyderabad is in the middle. We will compete with both cities and both airports. A new airport near Hyderabad will not just be an airport. It will be a business hub.” Two decades later, Mr Naidu’s vision is being fulfilled. The expansion of an already busy airport and the rapid growth of Cyberabad are already taking the Greater Hyderabad metropolis ahead of the peninsular competition.

 

Every time someone visiting the city asks me where they could buy good pearls I would first ask them whether they had wondered why a land-locked city in the middle of the Deccan plateau had become famous for pearls? The simple answer is that Golkonda-Hyderabad was for centuries a global trading hub. I have elaborated on this theme in my Waheeduddin Khan Memorial Lecture 2007, on “the local and global in Hyderabad’s development”, delivered at the Centre for Economic and Social Studies, Hyderabad.

The more recent and visible spurt in business activity is a tribute to the reassuring vision of both chief minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao and minister K.T. Rama Rao, who set aside their prejudices against what were called “outsiders” and imparted renewed confidence to investors, professionals and workers from across the country that the new state of Telangana was open to all for education, employment, investment and development.

 

While the Greater Hyderabad region is set to grow into a metropolis, the city needs much better urban governance and municipal administration. It desperately needs green and open spaces, better drainage and traffic management, preservation of heritage buildings and planned development free from the stranglehold of real estate and land mafias that tend to entrench themselves in most rapidly growing cities.

While New Delhi and Mumbai may continue to be at the top, being the political, business and finance capitals of the country, Hyderabad is on the threshold of emerging as the country’s third most developed metropolis, remaining true to its name as the country’s second capital. Not surprisingly, therefore, the Congress Party, that once dominated the region, and the Bharatiya Janata Party, that now dominates national politics, have cast their eyes on Hyderabad, seeking to challenge the Telangana Rashtra Samiti.

 

Hopefully, the intense three-way political competition between a resurgent Congress, an assertive BJP and a defensive TRS will not further vitiate the city’s largely inclusive culture and liberal environment. While Hyderabad has in the past experienced communal tensions and regional politics have been impacted by caste loyalties, this rising metropolis will hopefully retain its charming cosmopolitan character, that has for centuries contributed to its openness to global talent and opportunity.



Read More: Sanjaya Baru | From politics to business: All eyes are on Hyderabad

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