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Business as usual in Maharashtra

Ranjona BanerjiI really don’t know if Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan has been invited to visit Great Britain or not. Nor do I know if he has “Skyped” with the European Union leaders or any other worthies. I do know that British Prime Minister David Cameron was in Mumbai this week and offered to build half of Mumbai.

I also know that Maharashtra got 33 per cent of the foreign direct investment which came into this country from April to November 2012 more than any other part of India. The National Capital Region came second with a distant 19 per cent. I also know that Maharashtra is usually at the top of these figures although it almost never figures in conversations on FDI, investment, development and growth. All those conversations are reserved only for Maharashtra’s neighbour, err, Gujarat.

Prithviraj Chavan
While his counterpart from the neighbouring state is constantly using social media, CM Prithviraj Chavan has refrained from tweeting or blogging about his achievements

Hype and an effective use of social media is one way of keeping yourself in the news and it is used very well by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Yet here we are next door in Maharashtra, which in fact attracts more money than Gujarat. Both states have always been industrialised and both have their own problems when it comes to the human development index. There is absolutely no comparison between Mumbai and Ahmedabad as cities and Mumbai is in many ways, in spite of all the recent degradations, India’s only city.

Every single day, we criticise Mumbai and Maharashtra in newspapers and in conversation and that still doesn’t force the chief minister to start showing off about the number of visas he has in his passport. Nor does he tweet or blog about his achievements and his chats on Skype. Nor does Maharashtra even hold a “vibrant” trade fair to attract potential investors. Somehow, we still manage to get them and considerably more than everyone else.

None of this guarantees that the ruling Democratic Front government will return to power in Maharashtra in the next general elections. Maharashtra has had many chief ministers but the same combination has ruled since the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance lost in 1999.

The government will be held to scrutiny and the vast electorate in this large state will decide for itself. There are many things wrong with the way Maharashtra is governed and as we know, everyone talks about it all the while. This government itself has seen chief ministers and a deputy chief minister removed on allegations of corruption. And still the money keeps pouring in.

The Maharashtra riddle might be the same as the riddle anywhere - that some states are more industry-friendly than others and that these states have the systems in place to attract more investors. Gujarat, once part of the same presidency as Maharashtra, is one of those states. Others like Bihar have to work very hard to build those systems. And still others like West Bengal once had it all and then lost it all and are now stuck in a wilderness of their own making.

Perhaps what Maharashtra has in its favour is that its public image is not dependent on a single individual or a carefully crafted campaign. That is, regardless of its politicians and their shenanigans, work goes on. All of us who live here know this. Yes, Bal Thackeray was a cult politician and had an enormous following.

Yet, he hardly ever needed to get a visa to go anywhere, Skype anyone or blog or tweet about his achievements. Of course he had a newspaper to do that but his influence was far greater than the circulation of Saamna. The people of Maharashtra may have loved and admired the late leader but they did not always vote for him.

The cult is evidently not enough in Maharashtra. So why does it work so well in Gujarat, to the extent that no one will believe me when I repeat that Maharashtra has just won the latest FDI battle? And that Cameron wants to build half of Mumbai?

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona 

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