It’s quite often that friends get into a discussion between Mumbai (or Bombay) vs Delhi and passions run equally high on both sides. Much has also been written about it in various magazines and newspapers. But a city that is almost never discussed in comparison is a relative new player on the Indian, urban landscape – Bangalore (or Bengaluru). Whenever I have travelled to Bangalore over the last few years, the energy levels of the city have surprised me. I am not talking about the evening or nightlife since I am ignorant about that as far as both Mumbai and Bangalore are concerned. I am talking about their roles in the new, global economy. In Bangalore, I have seen a lot more youngsters starting new companies, a general ecosystem that has developed for entrepreneurs etc. Of course, much of this has to do with the now well-known growth of the IT industry and associated entrepreneurs, whether in the area of defence, automotive applications, engineering etc.
The race for talent remember is no longer between companies. It is between cities and what they offer the skilled talent to stay in them. China has shown us how its purposeful creation of integrated manufacturing and production networks within regions did for its dominance in global production. India lacks that scale of action, but in knowledge industries you don’t need just-in-time delivery and high-speed-cargo. You just need “place”, and “place” is what Bangalore brings to the residents who live in it, and that few other cities in India have been thoughtful of as they decay in the chaos of bad governance and under investment in infrastructure.
It is not just the IT industry that has picked Bangalore over Mumbai or Delhi, even though those cities have more people, and thus one would assume, more talent. Various MNCs have set up their R&D centres in Bangalore too. Among these GE is the most prominent and celebrated one. Now when K P Singh of DLF fame laid out the red carpet for Jack Welch (discussed in details in Jack Welch’s autobiography, Straight from the Gut), he possibly also showed him his enormous clout in the power corridors of Delhi. On the other hand, the joint venture with Wipro would have showed GE the immense human resources potential in Bangalore and also a very different work ethic, which would likely help to attract top notch research scientists to the R&D centre.
The availability of trained professionals, primarily engineers, dates back to before the boom in the IT industry. I not remember how or why it started (was it during Bangarappa’s time?), but the mushrooming of private engineering colleges at one time was looked down upon because many were seen as lacking basic facilities, faculties and necessary infrastructure. But possibly the demands from the booming IT and other industries forced these institutes to change where today they attract students from all over the country and are known to largely provide quality education.
But now some city/ states have tried to catch on, most notably Hyderabad when Chandrababu Naidu was the chief minister, but what makes Bangalore different? Though every denizen complains about the dismal state of urban infrastructure and the quality of their lives in Bangalore, I believe Bangalore has two distinct advantages over Mumbai, apart from its salubrious climate.
The first is its ability attract and retain young professionals in search of career or entrepreneurship. This is thanks to affordable real estate. Yes, Mumbai still attracts some the brightest people primarily in the field of entertainment and financial services and given a choice many of them would prefer to be in Bangalore. Poor infrastructure, particularly high cost of real estate and commuting hassles by public transportation is a deterrent to both employers and employees as far as Mumbai is concerned.
In practical terms, Bangalore’s air is cleaner, its society safer and more genteel (certainly far ahead of New Delhi). Mumbai still attracts talent – it always has and will – but in the race for the best, Bangalore is increasingly a more attractive destination. For Indian-born talent returning home, Bangalore is again the destination of first choice. The net result is that slowly the city is also becoming one of the largest centres of activity and commerce in the country, rapidly rivalling the weight of Mumbai or Delhi.
The second advantage that Bangalore enjoys - and a very important one – over Mumbai (and over Delhi also, I would think) is the engagement that its most prominent citizens have with the city’s administration and well being, an engagement that truly makes them a stakeholder in the city’s growth, development and well being. A resident’s awareness of the levers of power, and the knowledge that they have access to them in time of need, makes a big difference in how engaged and invested they are in the “place”.
Let me explain what I mean. A few years back a body called the Bangalore Action Task Force (BATF) was set up. BATF had some of the most prominent citizens of Bangalore starting with Narayana Murthy and Nandan Nilekani involved and actively thinking about Bangalore’s issues and engaging with the local administration as well as the state government. It was a great example of public private partnership and was set up by the then chief minister S M Krishna. It helped that the individuals at the helm were some of the wealthiest in the world they in turn attracted others.
BATF lost its way when Krishna lost his chief ministership, but a few weeks back another initiative was launched with similar intents – B.PAC (Bangalore Political Action Committee). On stage during the launch were present – Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, T V Mohandas Pai, K Jairaj, Ashwin Mahesh and N R Narayana Murthy. B.PAC has forged alliances with other urban reform agencies. People from the corporate world, sportspersons like Prakash Padukone and cultural czars were all present at the launch. Read about it in Shoba Narayan’s article “The future belongs to power partnerships“.
The most prominent citizens of Bangalore have become stakeholders in the city in a way that Mumbai’s most prominent have never really tried to – both by giving their time and their wealth. The Tata’s have looked at infrastructure issues and solutions for decades, but acting alone, they have never made any headway. Some of the richest and most prominent of the citizens have limited their interests to their skyscrapers and businesses. Bombay’s captains of industry have never come together in any platform for Mumbai in any sustainable way.
Prithviraj Chavan, probably the best chief minister Maharashtra has had in years, has never appeared or engaged in a public forum for Mumbai with its best known citizens. This lack of engagement is felt by the people who live in a place, and when choosing where to live, Bangalore shines on a relative scale. If public pressure points are not created, there is no incentive for the system (and the people who run it) to change. Mumbai, the commercial city of India, is and will remain the milch cow; but she’s not going to be around forever if nobody feeds and tends her. The impacts of decay are very visible.
Let me give a different example. Recently the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS),with a grant of Rs50 crores from Nandan Nilekani and Rohini Nilekani, has been set up in Bangalore. Among others Hemendra Kothari and Uday Kotak, both longer-term residents of Mumbai, have added Rs10 crores each. Why do institutes like these do not come up in Mumbai? Prohibitive real estate costs and political ineptitude are two of many reasons. Remember how Mumbai lost the Indian School of Business (ISB) to Hyderabad when state politicians demanded reservations for local students? The only educational institutes that come up in Mumbai are those that are run by politicians and we know why (think land).
This race is no longer between Mumbai and Delhi and Bangalore. It is a global landscape that these battles for talent are being fought fiercely, although intra-country battles will continue, especially in a country as large and diverse as India. Cities have to look at themselves carefully and do what it takes to renew and stay relevant to their residents. If you don’t have the right people, and if they don’t choose to come and stay, you will never have the businesses that need them. Kolkata lost it many years back. Now Mumbai is losing its competitiveness, even while Bangalore is gaining its. Agree?
(Tanzeel Merchant co-authored this piece along with Anirudha Dutta. Tanzeel is an architect, urban designer, writer, and flâneur. Tanzeel is leading the efforts of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (home to the community of Fort McMurray, Alberta), working with the Province of Alberta and Energy Industry, in their efforts to plan for a better, more sustainable long-term future. He has excelled in the past in his work leading the implementation of Ontario’s Places to Grow initiatives)