Violence mars Bengaluru’s business-friendly image

On Tuesday, Toyota Kirloskar, Karnataka’s largest investor in the auto sector, was to showcase to the world “the new Etios” – the sedan designed and built for India. But, it could not do a public bash due to the fallout of the violence a day before, which saw 200 vehicles get damaged and one person die in police firing.

Toyota’s factory – a massive 430-acre plot, which was once a hillock that was levelled to outdo competition from Tamil Nadu to attract the Japanese firm – is located at Bidadi off the Bengaluru-Mysuru highway.

Most residential localities and arterial roads on the way to the industrial hub had curfew imposed. So, Toyota issued a statement on the launch — a low-key affair for a car that is seen as the next blockbuster for the company in India.

Toyota is invested in India for the long term, but the trouble has dented to the image of Bengaluru as a peaceful business destination.

“Bengaluru’s image has been hurt. Karnataka’s image has been hurt. People have lost confidence in the government that it can handle the law and order situation,” said T V Mohandas Pai, chairman of Aarin Capital, a venture capital firm.

“However, today, the chief minister and the home minister have come out and said stern action would be taken against those who indulge in violence. There are more police as well on the road.”

The late evening advisory by the US government to its citizens in Bengaluru to “keep away from areas of demonstrations and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations” has also not helped the city’s cause.

An embarrassed Chief Minister Siddaramaiah admitted as much on Tuesday after a marathon Cabinet meeting, where it was decided that the state would comply with the Supreme Court’s directive to release additional water despite it “being difficult to do so”.

“If you don’t show volatility, it will help. Bengaluru isn’t just the capital of Karnataka but is an international city. Please join hands with the government,” pleaded Siddaramaiah to TV channels which were showing the arson and violence by protesters.

He also assured that the state would return to normalcy in a day – even as schools and colleges remained closed on Wednesday as a precautionary measure.

Siddaramaiah said he would seek Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention to resolve the dispute and would try to meet him as early as possible.

Modi expressed pain over the attacks in the two states locked in a bitter river water sharing row: “I am personally pained at the developments.” He appealed for calm and said solutions are found through restraint and mutual dialogue. He maintained that “this dispute can only be solved within the legal ambit” and “breaking the law is not a viable alternative”.

An additional 700 riot control police personnel were rushed to Karnataka to tackle the situation. With this, a total of 1,700 paramilitary personnel have been deployed in violence-hit areas of Karnataka for maintaining law and order.

Most technology companies such as Infosys and Wipro, multinationals such as Amazon and IBM, and start-ups such as Flipkart have made the city their home thanks to its salubrious climate, cosmopolitan culture, and the ability to get talent locally.

“Yesterday (on Monday), employees traveling back from work were affected by the incidents. Some employees even had to stay back on campus as well,” said an Infosys spokesperson.

Biocon, the country’s largest biotechnology company, remained unaffected on Monday as the company was shut due to the calendar holiday for Bakrid. The company decided to remain shut on Tuesday as well. Its founder and chairperson Kiran Mazumdar Shaw has been vocal in asking the government to restore calm.

Bosch, the German auto component maker, has declared a holiday for the software entity of the company. “The rest of the departments are working. However, keeping the severity in the condition, they have an option to work from home as well,” said a spokesperson of Bosch.