Jobs For Kannadigas: Is Reservation In The Private Sector The Right Approach?
When businesses are owned by non-Kannadigas, it is natural for them to employ people from their own region or community.
Kannadigas say doing business is tough now, and doing it ethically, is even tougher.
So the solution, perhaps, lies in the ease of doing business to encourage local entrepreneurship, and not reservation.
Over the last week, newspapers are full of reports that the Karnataka government is looking at reservation for ‘Kannadigas’ in private sector jobs, with some reports suggesting that it will be 80 per cent for Class C and D jobs and 20 per cent for the higher ones. IT-BT sectors are being exempted, as these sectors anyway do not pay heed to the government.
Some definitions of a ‘Kannadiga’ is also indicated in the reports, which are essentially about the job seeker having been born or educated in Karnataka, or having lived here for long. The purpose of this article is not to go into nitti-gritties of this proposal, or even the legality of the move. Basically I would like to discuss the following issues:
Why is it that Kannadigas are not getting enough representation in the jobs that are available here?
Why are other states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh or Gujarat not contemplating such a move?
Is a lack of entrepreneurship among Kannadigas, the real problem?
The Problem Is In Bangalore
Though the proposal is for entire Karnataka, it is clear that the focus is on Bangalore, as that is the place where jobs are, but Kannadigas are not getting them. So, it would be pertinent to look at the job scenario in Bangalore and draw some inferences.
It is true that quite a significant percentage of jobs that are being generated in Bangalore are being taken by ‘outsiders’. In fact, the complaint is that in Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike area (with a population of around one crore), Kannada speaking people have become a minority, with large influx of people from neighbouring Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, apart from distant Bihar, Odisha, Bengal and the North East. Marwaris and Gujaratis are in Bangalore since long, and their population is also increasing. So, anxiety among locals that they are getting marginalised is real, and needs to be addressed. Before doing so, let us analyse which sectors are generating the jobs, and who are employed there.
Since independence, Bangalore attracted Public Sector Undertakings – both from the Centre and the state. Big companies like HAL, HMT, ITI, BEl and BHEL were large employers, apart from state undertakings like NGEF, Mysore Soaps & Detergents, Mysore Lamps, etc. Central PSUs had people from all over the country, but lower and middle level employment was substantially with local Kannadigas. State PSUs had essentially local staff, both in the senior management and down the line. The only major private employers in Bangalore were companies like Kirloskar Electric, GKW, MICO, Mysore Electrical Industries, some textile mills and flour mills. In all these cases, though senior management may be from outside (eg: in Kirloskar, many top executives were Maharashtrian, in MICO there were both foreigners and people from other states), most middle and lower level staff were local. Then there were banks, which provided large scale employment. While Canara Bank, State Bank of Mysore, Vijaya Bank and Vysya Bank were headquartered in Bangalore, other Karnataka-based banks like Syndicate Bank, Corporation Bank and Karnataka Bank, though having their head office in and around Mangalore, had large setups in Bangalore. All these institutions employed locals – both in senior and junior positions. So, up to the 70s or mid-80s, the influx of outsiders was not very significant. It is true that Vatal Nagaraj had already made a presence in the Kannada agitation scenario, but that was essentially aimed at some predominantly Tamil speaking areas of Cantonment, non-exhibition of Kannada films in some theatres, and presence of Tamils labourers in some sectors.
Decline Of PSUs
But what has happened in the 90s and thereafter, is something quite different. Firstly, Bangalore saw the decline of the PSUs. HMT and ITI are in stress, and more or less out of the scene. State PSUs are in limbo, and practically, nothing new has come up. Most private textile mills are closed, and their land has gone for real estate development. Even in Peenya and Mahadevapura Industrial Estate, it is the non-Kannadigas who own most factories, as locals, who initially started them, gave up, after being unable to run them profitably. Wholesale and retail trade, which was essentially in the hands of locals (Vysya community in particular), has also moved into the hands of non-Kannadigas. Take the example of gold jewellery, textiles, pharmaceutical distribution, consumer durable distribution, etc. The entire business which was concentrated in areas such as Avenue Road, Chickpet, KG Road, BVK Iyengar Road, etc, has, for all practical purposes, moved into the hands of others. Gold business is now with the Malayalees (eg: Alukkas, Malabar Gold, Bheemas, Kalyan) or Tamils (GRT Thangamaligai, Lalithaa Jewellery, Sri Sai Gold) or Marwaris and Gujaratis. Textiles and pharma is almost fully with Marwaris. Even kirana shops selling day-to-day groceries is slowly moving out of the hands of Vysyas, and is with Malayali chains like Big Market, EK Retail, Ahmed Bazaar, etc, apart from organised retail like Big Bazaar, Reliance Fresh & Food World - none of which are owned by Kannadigas. Except small mom and pop stores, and some APMC Market business, no large trading business is being done by locals. The only areas where Kannadigas have some presence is in dealerships (like cars, two wheelers), educational institutions (schools, professional and non-professional colleges), hotels and restaurants, small real estate construction (big real estate construction, once again, is with non-Kannadigas, like Embassy group, Shobha, Purvankara, Mantri, Salarpuria, etc).
One important observation is that when businesses are owned by non-Kannadigas, it is natural for them to fill up all key slots from their own region or community. To realise this, you have to just step into a jewellery show-room. If it belongs to a Malayali group, 90 per cent of the employees there will be Malayalis. If you go to a Marwari owned business, you will notice that all his employees have migrated from Rajasthan. Same is true with Tamil-owned businesses. If you go to a restaurant chain owned by locals (like MTR, Maiyas or Kamat), or an educational institution (like MS Ramaiah, or RashtreeyaVidyalaya or Vokkaliga/Lingayat owned ones) you will see Kannadigas being employed there. So, the bane of Kannadiga non-employment can be directly traced to Kannadigas not owning any large organised business in Bangalore.
Kannadigas Lack Entrepreneurship
That brings us to the question, why Kannadigas are not owning businesses. One trait of a Kannadiga is his lack of risk taking capability, and being satisfied with a salaried employment. In the past, the Kannadigas were after government employment, and now it may be the better paying IT/BT jobs. He lacks entrepreneurship. Even the Vysyas, who were the original local entrepreneurial class, now-a-days, prefer not to start any businesses; they are happy to work as employees, or be professionals, like doctors, lawyers, chartered accountants, architects, etc. I have asked a number of my Vysya friends, why this change has come about, and what they say is quite revealing. According to them, doing business now is quite tough, and doing ethically is almost impossible. They are harassed by all government agencies, the Municipal Corporation, Fire Services, Sales Tax Department, Labour Department, IT Department, etc. They get bank loans only against collaterals, which they will lose if they suffer losses. They are not respected by society, and they have to pay obeisance to everyone, and bribe them day after day, though they may not have done any mistake.
In the olden days, it was not this bad, and their parents or grand-parents would not mind some harassment or loss of self-respect, for the sake of continuing family tradition. But now, with good education behind them, they don’t want to do unethical things or grease the palms of the corrupt. As it is almost impossible to do business ethically, they have simply opted out. As professionals or employees, they may earn less, but have peace of mind.
They also regret that a long legacy of entrepreneurship which was with their community is getting wearing off, but feel helpless. They say, businessmen from other states, don’t mind doing things which are required to keep businesses moving – but it is their choice. Interestingly, some Kannadigas in Karnataka are only doing those businesses where government interference is more, which they can manage with their money or influence, and which people from other states can’t. These are: iron ore mining, sand or granite mining, land aggregation for forming lay-outs, engineering or medical colleges, and sugar mills - not a great area known for ethics. Most of them, naturally, are owned by politicians or their cronies!
Now, let us contrast this with what is happening in other states. In Tamil Nadu, entrepreneurship is there in abundance, which is seen by the flourishing private industry, not only in Chennai, but also in Coimbatore, Trichy, Salem, Madurai, Tiruppur, Erode, Namakkal, etc. Though corruption is there, businessmen have learned to live with that. The whole of Gujarat is built by private enterprise; government there is supportive of business, and corruption level is low. In fact, they want labourers from outside. Andhra Pradesh-based entrepreneurs can be seen all over the country, building airports, power plants, roads or highways. We never hear of these states talking of reservation of jobs for locals.
Maharashtra, however, has a situation similar to that of Karnataka; docile Marathi speaking people are marginalised in Mumbai and other cities, which has given rise to vocal Shiv Sena, MNS, etc. So, moral of the story is clear – ‘Ease of doing business’ is not just a slogan; it should be implemented vigorously, and local entrepreneurship encouraged. Then only locals will get jobs – without the need to have the crutch of reservation.
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