Emerging Kerala has been in the news for some time now. A B2B meet of investors across from across the world, this is a brainchild of the current UDF government that is ruling Kerala. The website provides quite a good overview of what’s in store from Emerging Kerala. It proudly states the agenda as “A bouquet of opportunities for the world to take note of, Emerging Kerala 2012, is your opportunity to explore, invest and establish your business interests in Kerala. With a pro-active administration and investment-friendly policies, this is your gateway to make a mark on the industrial playground of Kerala”.

With a vision statement to make Kerala a premier global hub of economic activity, through fostering entrepreneurship and industry, which could leverage its inherent strengths, resulting in equitable socio-economic growth and a mission statement to present and showcase Kerala  and Create  awareness amongst all stakeholders – Enterprises, Government, Institutions, Leaders and Influencers, Investors and General Public – through continuous engagement and connect initiatives, while simultaneously creating the right environment, to facilitate the transformation of Kerala into a business hub and preferred  investment destination, this seems to be the most ideal thing to have happened in an investment starved state like Kerala.

There has been lot of opposition from various quarters regarding the objectivity of this meet, especially from the opposition Left that this is a planned schema to sell off coveted government property and environmentally sensitive terra firma in a land-starved state like Kerala. But does the opposition really have a heart where the mouth is? Is the antagonism defensible?

Most of us would remember GIM. Global Investors Meet was a programme that was conducted in 2003 during the reign of the previous UDF government in Kerala. Quite similar in structure to the Emerging Kerala, the meet was not quite a success. Quite a few lessons should have been learnt from that, if Emerging Kerala was to be a success. The basic blueprint of Emerging Kerala, like the land bank, single window clearance for projects in 90 days are all music to the ears, but for most of the opposition, it seemed just the right mix of policies and procedures to sell off prime real estate at throwaway prices in the name of investment.

And the inauguration and speeches were a comedy of errors of sorts. Industries Minister Mr. PK. Kunjalikutty repeatedly spoke in his speech of Emerging Kerala 2002, instead of EK 2012. Not once, but I counted at least 3 times he said that. Wow, was he drunk or what? As a State Minister who took the initiative for EK 2012, he should have had the sense, sensibility and sensitivity to understand this mistake. No, he did not, at least once. And I still don’t know if anyone around him had corrected him at least. Wasn’t there any kid around to shout that the emperor was naked?

Then, there was PM Manmohan Singh’s speech. He was harping on the strong secular credentials, social fabric and cosmopolitan nature of the Kerala society over the centuries. Wasn’t he the same person who said in a meeting last week, of the Head of Police of States, that Kerala was once of the top 5 states in India where there was communalism on the higher side. Quite a contradiction.

All said and done, the meet has ended, and so far it looks quite on a roll. Reports tell that it has garnered 45 deals of approximately Rs 45,000 Crores. Wow, that quite a good one for a small state like Kerala, but does it really have in it to go all the way? We have seen how GIM had zero impact. With so many projects designed in eco-sensitive areas of Western Ghats and beaches of Kerala, looks like it’s going to be all zilch once again.

Looking at the options, as an intelligent society, do we really think we need foreign money to be successful? Cannot we use our home grown money and capital for our own growth?

We had a popular President – Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. During his visit to Kerala in 2005 and his subsequent presentation in Kerala assembly of his Vision 2010 for Kerala, he had broadly listed the following as the focus points for Kerala.

@ Development of tourism
@ Development of waterways and deep-sea fishing
@ Development and marketing of knowledge products and pharmaceutical products
@ Creation of an army of nurses and paramedics to meet the rising demand at national and global levels
@ Setting up of exclusive economic zones to attract NRI and other investors
@ Value addition to tea, coffee, spices, coconut and fruits
@ Use of space technology for industrial development to achieve its development goals

The agenda was accepted by the Kerala Assembly on that day with thumping desks. And it ended with that. If there was enough interest to take any of these ideas forward, we would not have to look at more GIM’s and Emerging Kerala’s for investment, development and employment opportunities. Just think, an alternative to crowded trains and potholed roads for travelling from Kannur to Trivandrum – travel via Sea. Kalam had the idea, and if this had been implemented, most of us would have used this option. After all, this was the most widely used mode of transport from Malabar to Venad in the days of Kolathiri and Samuthiri. Each and every one of the points he made was the best in class, but it never moved a step forward.

Jesse Owens, the American track and field athlete once said “We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort” Kerala is a state that was way ahead of its times before the advent of colonialism. After that we have moved to a mentality that we require foreign support to prop us up.

A thousand Emerging Kerala meets and a trillion foreign dollars will come and go. But to win, we have to look within us, our culture and our legacy for our dreams and the path to bring that to reality, and not the words of modern day economists like MS Ahluwalia who tell us that our wet lands and paddy fields need to be filled up to make way for factories and industries.