Thiruvananthapuram: If you ask Chief Minister Oommen Chandy what the single-biggest deterrent to Kerala`s progress is, pat comes his reply: "The calling of hartals (shutdowns) at the drop of a hat by political parties".
Chandy, in an interaction with editors and senior journalists in the capital city ahead of "Emerging Kerala," an event meant to showcase how investor-friendly the state has become, underlined the need for greater political consensus on the need to prevent frequent shutdowns.
"Emerging Kerala" is set to be launched by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at Kochi Sep 12.
The event will see potential investors from 52 countries congregating at Kochi. Nearly 2,500 other guests are expected, including ambassadors, high commissioners and ministers. Almost 300 CEOs from major companies in different parts of the country are also expected to attend the event.
The meeting with media people was called by the chief minister to elicit views on ways to improve governance.
"Gone are the days when our state was known for bad labour practices. Today, not a single unit in our state is closed down due to labour unrest. This is a huge improvement from the past. But even today, the single biggest hindrance to prospective investors is the calling of shutdowns by political parties at the drop of a hat," Chandy said.
Chandy recalled how, as chief minister in 2004, an important meeting was called between German car makers BMW and the government to set up a unit in the state.
"The date that was earlier agreed on for the meeting had to be changed because there was a shutdown. Another date was fixed. Soon came another shutdown, on the very day the meeting was to happen. The Germans said goodbye to Kerala and went to Tamil Nadu," Chandy said.
He added that the Germans were so polite that they wrote a letter, making not one mention of the two shutdowns.
"Instead, they said they prefer Tamil Nadu because there are more ancillary industries there. That was the last we heard from them," the chief minister said, as his audience burst into laughter.
A journalist asked if anything could be done to prevent frequent shutdowns.
"Oh, is it possible? We will, nevertheless, call an all-party meeting to discuss this, because there has to be a political consensus to prevent this menace," said Chandy.