UP Investors' Summit
Article first published in @firstpost.com: (click here)
Yogi Adityanath's huge development push is political investment for a Narendra Modi blitzkrieg in 2019
The scale and glitz of the just concluded UP Investors Summit would not have surprised anyone. Nor would have the signing of 1,045 memorandum of understandings worth Rs 4.28 lakh crore raised any eyebrows. In fact, anything less would have been underwhelming. After all, coming close on the heels of Magical Maharashtra, there was undoubtedly an element of sibling rivalry at play, which the prime minister also playfully alluded to in his address.
As per various estimates, the cost of "dressing up" Lucknow for the mega bash was anywhere between Rs 60 to Rs 100 crore. Whether there was an attempt to outdo each other or not, like Devendra Fadnavis, Yogi Adityanath too was following the trail of Narendra Modi in organising the "mother of all Investor Summits". The template of Vibrant Gujarat has been xeroxed by practically all chief ministers making state-sponsored investor summits a booming business for events, hospitality, travel, PR and advertising industries. But, for Yogi, the stakes were higher. In many ways, it was his ‘coming out party’ and he had to make a statement out of it.
For BJP and Modi too, a lot is riding on Uttar Pradesh. That explains, the presence of 20 Union ministers (including six Cabinet heavyweights -- Arun Jaitley, Nitin Gadkari, Nirmala Sitharaman, Rajnath Singh, Piyush Goyal and Smriti Irani), inauguration by the prime minister and closing plenary address by the President Ram Nath Kovind. The signalling could not have been stronger as the prime minister, the Central government, party and the Sangh are all solidly behind Yogi and committed to the cause of Uttar Pradesh. With Lok Sabha elections expected anytime in the coming 12 months, it was a very significant message for the people of the state, who have not experienced this kind of alignment between Lucknow and Delhi in a long time.
It is natural to be cynical about the astronomical figures of MoUs signed after every investor summit. Empirical evidence suggests an abysmally low rate of conversion from promise to money on the ground. Industrialists are usually obliged to mark attendance, like at weddings for which they could not turn down the invite out of business or social compulsion. However, Yogi's do was a tad different from other investor jamborees.
Although the captains of industry showed up in full strength in Lucknow, they were discreetly circumspect in making commitments barring, perhaps, Gautam Adani who promised everything from education to agriculture with a proposed outlay Rs 35,000 crore. Many repackaged their current and on-going plans (like Mukesh Ambani’s Jio) while few others (such as Kumarmangalam Birla) talked of their Group’s past investments in the state. Anand Mahindra went tactically sentimental and invoked the blessings of his late mother, who belonged to Allahabad. Not that any of them could have given the occasion a miss, their collective presence was a huge recognition for Yogi’s rising stature and the next man to watch out for in BJP after Modi.
While the 'big boys' provided the star quotient, the real bang came from the Central ministers and public sector enterprises. The prime minister unveiled a Rs 20,000 crore defence corridor plan running through Bundelkhand with an employment potential of 2.5 lakh which was also the showstopper of the event. Goyal confirmed plans for two new railway factories, expansion of the existing one at Rae Bareli and starting one at Gorakhpur, besides fast-tracking the two railway freight corridors passing through the state.
It was clear that Yogi and the BJP strategists have identified tourism as a "low hanging fruit". And, what can be a better occasion to promote Uttar Pradesh as a destination than the Ardh Kumbh Mela in 2019 for which the state government has already set aside a budget of Rs 1,500 crore. Thus, Ashok Gajapathi Raju promised to make nine new airports operational in the next 15 months. Allahabad will be connected to 13 cities. Two new international airports are in the pipeline at Jewar (Noida – billed to be the largest in the country) and Kushinagar.
Similarly, the railway minister assured up-gradation of key stations around Allahabad. He wants to start a Swiss-style heritage railway in the Terai region. Gadkari talked of highways and waterways. Expressways have been announced to connect Purvanchal and Bundelkhand to the heartland. Ambani renewed his commitment to supporting Namami Gange and Mahindra is planning a Rs 200 crore resort near in the Vindhya-Varanasi region.
If all this provides visible development, aerospace and defence are expected to be the two major game changers. A full-fledged aerospace hub is being planned in Jewar, next to the international airport site. Defence hubs have been planned along Gautam Buddha Nagar, Agra, Aligarh, Chitrakoot, Kanpur and Varanasi.
The list can go on. But, the underlying subtext in all this was, realising the importance of Uttar Pradesh in 2019 elections, BJP has decided to crank up development with a strategic partnership between the centre and the state.
Riding on the back of these government-aided projects, Uttar Pradesh expects private investment to pour in.
Understandably, therefore, in the ceremony to felicitate the 1050 MoU signatories, maximum excitement was observed among the MSME players as they are likely to benefit most from the first wave of development projects.
Readers may recall the euphoria generated when Samajwadi Party came to power in 2003. Those were the heydays of the Amar Singh, Subrata Roy and Anil Ambani triumvirate. But, the excitement fizzled out as Mulayam Singh Yadav failed to deliver on two major counts of governance and corruption. Though the law and order situation improved during Mayawati’s term corruption remained a major deterrent. Akhilesh Yadav tried but there were too many contradictions and multiple power centres within the Samajwadi Party for him to be able to draw meaningful traction for his "Umeed o ki pradesh" (a State of hope).
Yogi has the task cut out for him. He has made a determined start on the law and order front. Still, large private players are likely to adopt a policy of wait and watch to see the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections. In the interim, it is a smart move to kick-start the investments and gets some early wins with government projects. Meanwhile, the Ardh Kumbh of 2019 will be a good opportunity to both provide the state with a face-lift as well as showcase Yogi's administrative skills with BJPs core constituents.
Thereafter, if all goes well in the Lok Sabha husting, Uttar Pradesh and Yogi both will be all set for a take-off. It is a mission in which neither Yogi nor Modi can afford to fail.
If he delivers - he will earn the hashtag "#YogiRoxx" for life.