This is the first of a series of reports Mark Tully, the British journalist who has made India his home, will write for The Telegraph on the elections
The host on Hyderabad’s CTV Breakfast show clearly got his job through influence not talent. Chandrababu Naidu sits with his trademark laptop beside him, wearing the uniform yellow shirt of his Telugu Desam Party with rarely even the ghost of a smile passing over his face as he conducts a phone-in with voters.
I can’t help wondering how his party’s purpose is served by questions about the size of families and how much has been spent on the marriage of daughters, ending with advice to vote for a good person. It’s certainly not a hard sell.
But Naidu does have others to do the selling for him, and he has something to sell, too. Dr Vidyasagar, executive vice-president of Tata Consultancy Services, reels off point after point. “Hyderabad has the best infrastructure in India. There is no shortage of water or power. There is no pollution. The government is responsive to the requirements of modern industry.”
One other point he makes is the low cost of living, lower than Calcutta — not good news for the Bengal government’s campaign to attract IT investors.
The evidence of Cyberabad’s success is there for anyone to see in Cyber City. Some 30,000 IT workers are employed in the new city built by Naidu. It’s there to see in Dr Vidyasagar’s own office housed in a brand-new building imaginatively designed by Italian architect Mario Botta and constructed in just one-and-a-half years. The evidence is there, too, in Hyderabad’s record — attracting the Microsoft Center and winning the battle with Bangalore to persuade Bill Clinton to call. But here again Naidu’s salesmanship has been lacking. For all the successes of Hyderabad, Bangalore apparently remains the destination of first choice for IT investors.
Naidu’s critics write off Cyberabad as an irrelevance when it comes to elections, not a vote winner. The Congress is not convinced of that however.
They brought Sam Pitroda to Hyderabad to claim that the seeds of the technology revolution, and in particular the mobile phone phenomenon — 33 million now — were sown by Rajiv Gandhi. He was very well received.
In the old city of Hyderabad among the small shopkeepers and vegetable sellers surrounding the Char Minar the relevance of Cyberabad is not so obvious. Indeed, the relevance of the election is rather doubtful. There is certainly no election fever. The qawali blaring out from the Mini Super Cassette Centre faces no competition this election from the loudspeakers broadcasting party messages. There are no flags, and no posters. This can, of course, be blamed on the Election Commission, which has taken much of the noise and colour out of electioneering. But the voters themselves seem disinterested, too.
Outside a pan shop I heard the usual message. “All parties are the same. They are only interested in eating money.” “Shining India. It’s only in the papers.”
There was agreement that Hyderabad was a cleaner and greener city but when I asked about Cyberabad back came the question: “Has that got us any jobs'”
New Hyderabad may have created 30,000 jobs but unemployment is clearly the main issue in the old city. In the shop, or perhaps I should say clinic of a false-tooth fitter, Mohammad Ziauddin, a retired government accountant said: “All politicians and all parties promise jobs but nobody believes those promises now.” One of his sons has emigrated, the other is unemployed.
Optimism in Cyberabad and cynicism in the Old City — that would not surprise Dr Vidyasagar who has diagnosed an Indian complaint called SLIME or The Self-Loathing Indian Mentality. He traces it back to that old villain, Macaulay. Today he blames the English language press for spreading the disease. I remembered visiting the Hyderabad Press Club to discuss Naidu’s e-governance reforms when I was writing about them a few years ago. So negative was the response that in the end I asked: “Can’t one of you find anything good to say about the reforms'”
To end my day I decided to return to the press club to see whether the election had affected views on e-governance. It didn’t help that in a government office right next to the club two touch-screen displays meant to inform the public about their utility bills had been out of order for over a year. But then the journalists did agree bills could still be paid electronically from the office.
I was agreeably surprised, because no one likes an undiluted dose of pessimism, that journalists did now recognise Naidu has put Hyderabad on the map. They didn’t feel this would have much impact on the electorate. But then one said: “Maybe it’s all happened too quickly. Maybe it hasn’t had time to make an impact.”
So, perhaps, if whoever comes to power in Andhra Pradesh this time continues with Chandrababu Naidu’s reforms, the next election will be less slimy.