January 18, 2003
New Delhi

Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee's Inaugural Speech at the Global Investor Meet

Jaya Jaya Komala Kerala Dharani

Ella Malayalikalkum ente abhivadanam!

I have attended many gatherings of investors and businessmen in Delhi and in other States. But I am particularly pleased to be here today to inaugurate Kerala’s first-ever Global Investor Meet. I see a new hope in this for Kerala. And I see my confidence in India’s bright future further reinforced.

I must thank your Chief Minister, Shri A.K. Antony, for inviting me to this conference. I have known Mr. Antony for many years. I have always admired him for his simplicity and gentleness. After he has become your Chief Minister, I now also admire him for his zeal for reforms and change as a way to ensure acceleration of Kerala’s all-round development. This Global Investor Meet is a testimony to this commitment.

Kerala has always fascinated me. This strip of verdant land between the blue sea and green mountains has a richness that is divine to any eye. No wonder that even the predecessor government, whatever their views on matters godly, chose to continue to project Kerala to the outside world as ~God's Own Country~.

I see Kerala’s greatness in the gopurams of its temples, the spires of its churches, and the domes of its mosques. I am filled with awe when I think of the young boy from Kaladi, Sankara, who travelled all the way to Kashmir and Kedarnath and illumined the entire Bharat with his intellectual brilliance. What a glorious tradition of peace, harmony and social reform you have inherited. What a progressive spirit your State has breathed down the ages. One of the first ever satyagrahas in India for temple entry for lower caste Hindus was organized in Kerala. Some of the inspiring chapters in the struggle for social equality and workers’ rights were written in Kerala.

Kerala has never lived only for itself. It has always lived for India. Your poet laureate, Mahakavi Vallathol wrote and I quote:

Bharatam Ennaperu Kettalabhimana

Puritaamakanam Antharangam

Keralamennperu Kettal Thilakkanam

Chora Namukku Njerampukalil

(When we hear the name Bharatam, our hearts should be filled with pride,

When we hear the name Keralam, blood should surge in our veins with pride.)

Kerala has never been inward-looking. It has always looked and forayed beyond its shores. Your Mahakavi Pala Narayanan Nair sang:

‘Keralam Valarunnu Pashchima Ghattangale

Keriyum Kadannum Chennanayum Desangalil’

(Kerala grows crossing the Western Ghats And reaches far corners of the world.)

This is not mere poetry. It is the reality of life in Kerala. I am amazed to know that as many as 25 lakh people from Kerala are working in different parts of the world, mostly in Gulf countries. Three times that number work in other parts of India. Nearly half of the Rs. 55,000 crore remittances from NRIs so far have come from your emigrant brothers and sisters, working as technicians, nurses, teachers and in scores of other professions.

Not only Kerala, but India too has been enriched by them. Not only Kerala, but India as a whole has earned praise for their talent and hard work.

Friends, let me, however, confess that I am equally amazed at another feature of contemporary Kerala. On the one hand, your State has perhaps the oldest and the strongest links with the global community. On the other, it sometimes exhibits a strange tendency to ignore the winds of change in the global as well as the national economy.

On the one hand, people from Kerala have shown exemplary entrepreneurship whenever they have ventured out in other parts of India and the world. On the other, they do not feel inspired to invest in Kerala itself to start industrial and business ventures, and create wealth and employment opportunities here.

There is an impression that Kerala does not offer a business-friendly climate, either for outside investors or even for its own entrepreneurs. It is seen as a good place to sell goods because there are many people with high incomes, but not as a good place to set up industrial and other business ventures.

I am told that there is a Malayalam movie called ~Varavelppu~ in which your famous actor Mohan Lal acts as a Gulf-returned Keralite. He invests his savings in a small business venture with high hopes. But in the end, he is forced to close it down after going through many unpleasant experiences.

Therefore, this conference should serve as an occasion for introspection.

Why is it that Kerala, in spite of its exemplary record in social development, has lagged behind in economic development?

In spite of possessing rich and abundant natural resources, why is the rate of unemployment in Kerala almost three times higher than the national average?

If the State’s rate of economic growth remains low, how can it sustain its widely and rightly acclaimed ~Kerala Model~ in health, education, women’s empowerment and other social indicators?

Will – and should – future generations be deprived of these benefits because of the present generation’s resistance to change?

I am not the only one having these concerns. Many renowned economists and intellectuals from Kerala, and Kerala’s well-wishers outside, have been asking these very questions.

I have heard Keralites from all walks of life, and especially those working outside, saying that the State now needs to look ahead, and not remain trapped in outdated dogmas and sterile ideological debates. I have heard them asking themselves a recurrent question: ~While workers’ interests should certainly be protected, is it in the workers’ interest or the State’s interest to discourage investors through frequent strikes, gheraos and attimari? Shouldn’t we unload this historical burden from our heads and build a New Kerala?~

It is not for outsiders to answer this question for you. You have to answer it yourselves.

I am happy to note that Kerala has already started to indicate what that answer would be. Right here in Kochi, you have built, through privately raised funds from mainly your own people, the most attractive airport in the country. You have set up a large Information Technology park. NASSCOM has recently ranked this city as the second most competitive destination in the country for IT-enabled services, which can create tens of thousands of employment opportunities for our educated youth.

And what can I say about your highly successful tourism promotion campaign? Just this, that it has motivated several other States to emulate you. I can tell you that it even motivated me to choose the scenic backwaters of Kumarakom for spending my year-end holidays two years ago.

Today I would like to assure you that the Centre is willing to fully stand by you in your process of change and reform. Our track record of the past nearly five years testifies to the fact that the Centre has never allowed political considerations to influence our dealings with any State. Over the next few years, Kerala will see Central investments of over Rs. 10,000 crore in projects of PSUs like the capacity expansion of NTPC’s power station at Kayamkulam; upgradation of Bharat Petroleum Corporation’s Kochi Refinery; and mineral exploration jointly by NMDC and Indian Rare Earths Limited.

Vallarpadam International Container Terminal has been a longstanding demand of your State. I am happy that all the hurdles in this highly promising project have been finally removed and work would commence within the next few months.

In addition to these Central Government investments, Kerala has the potential to absorb huge private and foreign investments in sectors that have already been identified by the State Government. This conference provides the right platform for investors to take a close look at these opportunities and firm up their investment plans. Wherever there is an interface with the Central Government, rest assured that you will receive every kind of assistance, facilitation and support.

Friends, the path of economic reforms that we have embarked upon in India is not a matter of short-term expediency. On the contrary, it is the outcome of a well-considered long-term strategy to tap our immense resources and the talents of our people in order to realize our goal of a better life for all our citizens. Let there be no doubt that our objectives continue to be the removal of poverty, employment generation, environmental protection, and social and gender justice. To achieve these objectives, we must accelerate economic growth. The key to this is enhancing the competitiveness of our industries and business to global standards, by providing a conducive investment climate.

Wherever I go in India these days, I see a sense of urgency among the people to achieve faster and more balanced development. It is now for the political and governing establishment to reflect this sense of urgency in everything we do. I, therefore, invite you to participate in this endeavour in partnership with the Centre, so that we all move together towards creating a more prosperous, equitable and vibrant India, benefiting all sections of our diverse society, and especially the poor and the underprivileged.

Before I conclude, I would like all the domestic and foreign investors to share my great faith in the resilience of Keralites. They have proved time and again that they have the grit to survive against all odds. I can see a new mindset getting formed, a new mental churning taking place in Kerala. There is now a burning desire in the hearts and minds of many Keralites to make up for the lost time. And that desire is gaining critical mass. Therefore, I am confident that this conference, at which the esteemed Leader of the Opposition is also present, will be a precursor to many more positive changes to come, many more bold initiatives to be adopted.

I can already see that in the near future, Kochi will create the same business buzz nationally and globally as Bangalore and Hyderabad have done in recent years. And that a new and revitalized Kerala will emerge as yet another powerhouse of prosperity and all-round progress for the benefit of all the people of this wonderful State as well as our great country.

Thank you.~