November 3, 2005

India Today Cover Story- Nov 7, 2005

There is a term that techies use these days that is both comic and tragic. The phrase "being Bangalored" is used to describe a state of stagnation, when things don't move, when all plans run aground. Bangalore, once a brand for India's global aspirations, is today an urban nightmare and a political brawling ground.

Two recent incidents reminded us of just how badly Bangalore has slipped. The battle between former Karnataka chief minister H.D. Deve Gowda and Infosys Chairman N.R. Narayana Murthy over the Bangalore International Airport Project was the first. Then came the pictures of the Wipro office submerged in flood water. The airport project is symbolic because it has been on paper for 15 years. Two ground-breaking ceremonies have already been held in its honour and the city is nowhere close to getting the international standard airport it deserves. The war of words between the two Karnataka stalwarts represents the political tug-of-war being played out at the city's expense.

Bangalore was the symbol of India's infotech (IT) prowess. In the early 1990s, we didn't know exactly what it was that the IT companies did, but we knew the world wanted it. The boom spawned "letterhead" companies which registered their offices in Bangalore only to be able to acquire credibility by putting the city's name on their stationery.

Today, Bangalore has little credibility left. It seems it cannot cope-neither with the good times that led to an influx of software professionals, nor the bad, when the pressure of thousands of its new citizens began to tell on civic infrastructure. The IT industry may have been given preferential treatment by the Government, but it cannot be faulted. IT has delivered on its promises: it created jobs, earned foreign exchange and set global standards. It is those who govern Bangalore who have not delivered. Blaming the IT industry for the lack of adequate roads or electricity, for its growing congestion and pollution is a red herring.

India's politicians are stuck in the 19th century while we are trying to live in the 21st. By seeking to turn his differences with Murthy into a simplistic "haves versus have-nots" scenario, Gowda, a former prime minister, has given us more proof of the same.

Our cover story this week looks at the betrayal of Bangalore. Principal Correspondent Stephen David uncovers several layers of this sorry story, of how politics of caste and of regional versus national parties has led to the slide and fall of India's Silicon Valley. While power brokers have been making their calculations, Bangalore has been left out of every growing industry's future plans.

Once again, the arithmetic of politics has overtaken the geometrics of economic growth.

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