If there has to be one solid illustration of how competitive federalism among states can help them achieve higher economic goals, then the newly formed states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh would be the finest.
The competition between them, arising from the Telangana struggle, and the personal rivalry between the Chief Ministers K Chandrashekhar Rao and N Chandrababu Naidu, is so close, that at the 2016 Ease of Doing Business ranking released by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) and the World Bank, both the states were tied at the top spot. Both the states rejoiced, but there was also a noticeable discomfort in having to share the top spot with the rival state.
It is no surprise then that there is an apparent competition between the two political scions of the Telugu states – K Tarak Rama Rao and Nara Lokesh, sons of KCR and Naidu, respectively. But their battlefield? Information Technology. While KTR has been holding the IT portfolio of the state cabinet since the formation of Telangana, recently, Lokesh was inducted into the cabinet by his father, and he was given the IT ministry to run.
So, what is it about information technology that both the sons, and possibly heirs of the party, have taken to it?
First, the choice of IT has much to do with Hyderabad, or rather what it represents.
Following bifurcation, Hyderabad may have gone to Telangana, but it was always used, first under the leadership of United AP’s CM Naidu, as a corporate growth-engine to transform the economy, and it was powered by information technology.
Naidu, while he was at the helm from 1995 to 2004, ushered in a slew of reforms using latest technologies from key industries like IT/ITes and biotechnology, which ultimately earned Hyderabad the moniker ‘Cyberabad’. The push on outsourcing led to Microsoft opening its largest development centre outside its global headquarters in Seattle, in Hyderabad in 1998. By March 2004, software exports from Hyderabad touched one billion dollars and it had the fourth largest exports from the country.
Naidu was looked upon as the IT czar with many accolades coming his way. The Economic Times awarded him as the ‘Business Person of the Year’ while Time Magazine feted him as the ‘South Asian of the Year’. Even today, Naidu is often seen as the man who reformed Hyderabad forever. That legacy has immense political capital, even if it was indeed the reason he lost sight of rural development and eventually lost the next elections.
And for both KTR and Lokesh, who want to be seen as future CMs of their respective states, being seen as taking forward this legacy is key.
Secondly, IT is a hot sector. If you are the IT minister, you get to meet and greet global CEOs like Tim Cook, Sundar Pitchai and Travis Kalanick, and pose for photo-ops which can enhance your visibility. It makes for a lot of political grandstanding. Today, four of the top five most valued technology companies including Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon have their largest offices outside US, in Hyderabad, and KTR has used it to his advantage.
KTR has outlined his vision to develop Hyderabad into a global city and make Telangana one of the most sought after investment destinations in the country. KTR has said he wants to turn Hyderabad into a fully WiFi-connected city and is focussed on turning it into one of the best cities globally for entrepreneurship. Proof of this is T-Hub, the country’s largest start-up incubator, which has come up in Hyderabad. Entailing an investment of Rs 40 crore in the first phase, T-Hub can accommodate 300 start-ups and can seat 800 people together. Just last month, Hyderabad became the country’s first ‘giga city’ with ACT Fibernet announcing the launch of 1GBPS wired broadband internet services.
Who do you think is getting at least some of the credit for all this? KTR. No wonder then, Lokesh too is angling for a piece of that.
But Lokesh has a long way to go. For one, he was not given a Hyderabad-like city on the platter. He has to build the IT sector in AP from scratch.
And even though he is being pitted against KTR, and to some extent even YSRCP’s Jagan Reddy, he is much younger. Lokesh had earlier said, "I’m not in a hurry. KTR is close to 40, Jagan is above 40, but I’m in my early thirties. I want to gain more experience, win a few elections before I’m tuned to it."
It would be safe to assume that both Lokesh and KTR see themselves as future CMs of the state, and there is no other sector like IT to brand yourself as a futuristic, modern leader.