Bangalore Power cuts and ET Reformer of the year award to Power Minister…

This one is a rambling post.

Prof Dwijendra Tripathi in his excellent book on Indian Business history writes about this interesting aspect of Indian business. For a very long time of Colonial period, the business  community was least impacted. They never really thought about the colonial bosses as imperialistic and were interested in just continuation of the business. They adjusted really well from the previous Mughal regime to the British one. Infact some of them grew spectacularly well due to their association with the new rulers. It took some stringent measures by British and other adverse policies which impacted the Indian business interest that got the group rethinking. Then they joined others in Swadesi movement protesting about British. Here, too they perhaps could see that soon power will move from the British to Indian hands, and time to reconcile interests with latter.

Fast forward to 2015 and you see things have hardly changed. The way business people have shifted their bases from previous UPA to today’s NDA is quite amazing. Their choice is simple – Salute the rising sun.

One good way to see this is the choice of their business awards. Towards this time of each year. handful of elites get together to pick what are already exisiting elites or going to be the next set of elites. These are called as Business/Corporate Excellence awards.  These are sponsored by the leading business dailies like Economic Times and Business Standard.

Over the years, the idea has been to keep most people happy. So categories of awards has expanded, just like we see in several Bollywood awards given each year. So, if we look at ET awards, it started in 1998 with just Company of the Year. Then the next award happened in 2002, where award category expanded to seven and again to just one in 2004. Since 2006, the award has been given in 9-10 categories (in 2011 and 2012, again came down to 7-8). The awards  are like company of the year, entrepreneur of the year and so on. It is actually just a roulette in most categories with some sets of companies/individuals being awarded in different categories each year.

In terms of these awards linkage to govt, there have been two categories  – Business reformer of the year and policy change agent of the year. Former is usually reserved for a minister and latter for a bureaucrat/technocrat. Here is the list of the two awardees:

Business Reformer of the year Policy Change Agent of the year
2006  P Chidambaram Montek Singh Ahluwalia
2008 Kamal Nath E Sreedharan
2009 Nitish Kumar Jean Dreze
2010 Kapil Sibal Aruna Roy and Arvind Kejriwal
2011 Nandan Nilekani
2012 Sam Pitroda
2014 UK Sinha
2015 Piyush Goyal Amitabh Kant

Really interesting names.

How the victors of these awards go on to become villians as well. For instance Jean Dreze, getting a policy change agent of the year and then being one of the centre players blamed for the rights and entitlement culture in India.  Same for Nitish Kumar who from being the reformer of Bihar to being made the scapegoat in recent elections. What does one even say for Kamal Nath/ Kapil Sibal and so on.

One should note that how both the reformer and change agent category are usually picked from the ruling party or those affilated to ruling party. All these years not one award to anyone from any other part. Keep the bosses happy as they say. In 2014, the award was given to SEBI chief in the reformer category which was kind of odd as he fitted more in the change agent category. Perhaps the panel was just waiting for the new government to settle.

Also how these awards are connected to the Sensex. If the Sensex is declining/uncertain, no awards are given in reformer category in 2011 and 2012. They could have picked up someone from the States. It is ironical that the current PM was not voted in the reformer category in any of the years! So much so for Gujarat model.

As 2015 emerges, the Power Minister is picked for the award which is really a surprising choice. The change agent one not as much.

It is here begins the second part of the post. Well, the Minister holds not just power portfolio but renewable energy and coal as well. But power clearly tops the priority. I mean how ironical to give the award to Power Minister seeing power situation in the country especially Karnataka. There are blackouts in India’s Silicon valley like never before. Yesterday, power came in parts of South Bangalore after nearly 24 hours. People were seen rushing for candles and water bottles.

The awarding panel says:

The Business Reformer award went to Piyush Goyal. The jury noted how he inherited a complex and controversial domain and delivered effectively. It lauded him for conducting coal auctions. “For the first time in 20 years, there’s no shortage of coal,” said one juror. Another said Goyal was “close to solving the discoms problem” and power availability was poised to improve sharply.

Firstly, the idea of opening up coal to many players was not taken in this government but the previous one. Yes, the previous one botched up badly the allocation process. So, if one redid the auctions coal allocations was bound to improve. And one still does not know the actual outcome. Things like coal and mining take many years to show up. I am surprised that the panel thinks coal to be like stock prices which jump due to some policy action.

And  then it is not Karnataka alone. Power is a huge problem in most parts of the country. Most places power does not just come for few hours but is highly volatile as well. One has to see whether the tall claims of providing power to all can be delivered given even prominent cities Bangalore cannot get adequate power. If you read statements of state power ministers, it speaks of a completely different world than painted by the Union power minister.

But this is how things are. I am amused no big business leader from Karnataka mocked the choice of award given the precarious state of affairs. But then this is a community which rarely expresses its dissatisfaction except when things are shaky in the stock bourses. How many of these panel members face power cuts anyways?

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