I came to Bangalore (as it was called then) on the July 2, 1980 to study at IIM Bangalore. I have lived on here since, often singing its praises. I guess what most Bangaloreans, including myself, are proud of is the weather — and some of us speak as though we invented it!
In those days, Bangalore was the “garden city”, as the visionaries who conceptualised it had the sense not to fall prey to the real estate sharks and created lung spaces right in the heart of the city — Cubbon Park, Lal Bagh, Race Course and Golf Course.
Bangalore was also a pensioner’s paradise, as the parks were filled with people in their Balaclavas, speaking in Kannada and preparing to have their masala dosa as soon as the walk finished!
Then came the public sector wave, as the BELs, BHELs and HALs made the city their home. The august institution of IISC was followed by an IIM and much later, the National Law School. All these made me believe that Bangalore could be the knowledge capital of India.
But the real brand, if you can call it that, was created by software giants like Infosys and Wipro, which led to a phenomenal association with software and spawned words like “Bangalored”, thanks to books like The World is Flat .
Of course, Bangalore did not know how to manage its growth and the infrastructure started to deteriorate, leading to jokes like these: “In the UK, people drive on the left of the road; in the US on the right of the road. And in Bangalore, on what is left of the road!”
Arguably, it was still the only Indian city that was globally recognised.
Beginning of troubles
The boom in the IT and ITeS sectors in Bangalore led to reckless, unplanned expansion of the city without a corresponding rise in the infrastructure. This lead to the unsavoury association between Bangalore and traffic jams.
In the middle of all this expansion, some politician decided to call the city ‘Bengaluru’ (Oh God!), raising many a foreigners’ eyebrows. Politicians, after all, believe that brands belong to them and they can do what they to want with them. Little do they realise that brands belong to consumers — even Coke realised this after a big fall.
However, without any help from the administrators and despite the government, Bangalore managed to become the start-up capital of India, as the Myntras, Flipkarts and Quikrs set up their headquarters here.
Of course, the city had no governance and we watched in horror as it soon became the “garbage capital of India” — Bangalore not only sucked but actually stank.
The new deteriorated Bengal
There was a time when Kerala and Bengal were famous for strikes, and entrepreneurs avoided these States like the plague. Companies like Britannia, which were headquartered in Kolkata, moved to Bangalore and ITC started its foods division here.
But there is a distressing trend today, thanks to the numerous bandhs happening in Bangalore with ever increasing causes, not least of all the Cauvery.
The solution? Bandhs, riots, arson, even as the government watches on, perhaps in tacit support, and the rest of the world watches in horror the tanking of brand Bangalore. Let’s not forget that the Accentures and the IBMs have a huge presence in the city.
Crying out for a champion
Watching Bangalore reminds one of a person who won a lottery worth several crores, but has no idea how valuable it is. He dips into it as though there is no tomorrow. This is precisely how politicians are dealing with the equity of brand Bangalore — carelessly, casually.
Thanks also to the presence of several million immigrants, the city does not have passionate residents like Chennai or Mumbai. No one knows who the city belongs to and the politicians could actually sell the Vidhana Soudha if the price is right!
So what do we have here? A brand that was built without anyone’s real effort or planning, and is still surviving on decades-old infrastructure that is creaking at the seams. If you look at successful brands, they all have a champion who lives, thinks, sleeps and dreams the brand. They ensure that the brand stays within its reason for being without straying from the chosen path.
Sadly, Bangalore does not know what leadership means. The administrators are killing the golden goose that got them global recognition, fame, money — just about everything.
Is there a way out?
Major cities like New York and London have a mayor who is the CEO of the city. Who is the CEO of Bangalore? And more importantly, who wants to be CEO of the city? That is the only way a brand that is rushing speedily downhill can be saved.
But something tells me that it’s going to be a long struggle. Will the brand be equal to it? Only time will tell…