Tamil Nadu

Why Coimbatore and Annamalai Need Each Other

Amarnath Govindarajan

Apr 05, 2024, 01:17 PM | Updated Apr 06, 2024, 12:25 PM IST

K Annamalai will contest in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections from Coimbatore
K Annamalai will contest in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections from Coimbatore
  • Both the city and the candidate are at their respective journey's crossroads.
  • K Annamalai's candidature for the Coimbatore Lok Sabha seat comes at an interesting point in the city's economic history. Many are seeing a structural decline in the fortunes of the region's textile industry. In its place a flourishing IT sector and a defence corridor are expected in the coming years.

    The city's social milieu too has undergone a massive change. The city, in fact, the entire region, has stopped producing textile workers for over twenty years. It now produces IT engineers by the hundreds — a fact that is nudging larger IT companies to set up facilities in the city. This much is common knowledge.

    To grow at its current pace and continue to prosper the city may well stick to its current 'self-made' model where government investments are minimal and restricted to basic infrastructure. In this model, it does not matter who the MP is — the city manages things on its own. Business as usual, as it has happened for decades.

    But, alarmingly enough, it is not going to be business as usual for the global economy.

    First, governments across the world are incentivising local manufacturing. Large economies are directly subsidising the production of semiconductor chips, AI companies and even large cranes used in ports.

    The US, EU, China and other economies are locked in a hypercompetitive battle to not only build technical know-how but also to keep such know-how within their countries and gain an edge over others through large-scale manufacturing.

    Second, a large part of the economies of the future is going to be dependent on products and solutions coming out of today's deep tech companies. Newer kinds of energy solutions (batteries, solar, small nuclear reactors, even fusion reactions are being spoken of), AI-enabled robotics (there will be millions of humanoid robots by 2040) to replace human workers, space exploration and other developments will change the nature of economies and societies as we know it.

    Both of these changes — manufacturing and deep tech investments, will see massive involvement of governments. Both state and central governments will work in sync with each other to bring large-scale investments to their favoured locations. It is no accident that three of the four major investments in the semiconductor chips space have gone to Gujarat. All four investments confirmed in the semiconductor space so far have happened in BJP-ruled states.

    Major investments in deep-tech space also involve government sops. Hosur's growth as an EV hub did not happen by itself — it was enabled through targeted state subsidies and intent. Similarly, Sriperumbudur's automobile manufacturing ecosystem was not 'self-made' - it was the state government's intent and active enablement that made it happen.

    Given these realities, Coimbatore can ill afford to be happy with its 'self-developed' image. 

    The old paradigms of an indifferent MP - such as PR Natarajan, who appears to have taken much care not to be seen in the constituency, and an industry ecosystem not aligned with the state/central government intentions, can only mean stagnation at current levels of growth for Coimbatore.

    Annamalai, given his proximity with the BJP's national leadership, has the potential to be an activist MP who could potentially swing deals for the city. 

    While he has yet to articulate a broader vision for the city, the probability of projecting Coimbatore as a candidate city for newer investments, to promote local entrepreneurs and push the city into a different orbit is higher with him than with an ADMK or a DMK MP.

    The city also gives Annamalai a proving ground of sorts. If he wins, can he outmanoeuvre other states and cities vying for investments? Can he push the cultural changes needed to bring about a new industrial and entrepreneurial energy into the city? Coimbatore is a perfect candidate to see what he makes of the coming future.

    All of this is common knowledge but there is a frightful issue with Coimbatore and its MPs. For a self-developed city, Coimbatore has mostly elected ill-equipped leaders to represent the city in national politics.

    Except for a few tenures such as PR Ramakrishnan's when the city had a representative who knew a thing or two about entrepreneurial affairs the city's MP has either been a communist or a trade unionist. (CP Radhakrishnan may be an exception)

    It would seem that both Annamalai and Coimbatore need each other. Both the city and the candidate are at their respective journey's crossroads.

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