The Chennai model

Tamil politicians have never been good at projecting the city’s myriad successes.

Written by Sushila Ravindranath | Published: August 20, 2013 12:06 am

Tamil politicians have never been good at projecting the city’s myriad successes.

On August 18,celebrations started as Chennai (or the erstwhile Madras) entered its 375th year. What started as a low-key one-day affair nine years ago has now acquired a life of its own,with events spread over a month. There are talks,walks,quizzes,art,music and street events. Schools,colleges,citizens associations and corporates get into the act. Everything is voluntary. It is truly a citizen’s movement,with no sponsors.

What took Madras so many years to realise that it should celebrate itself? It was S. Muthiah,journalist,author and chronicler of the city,who nudged his network of associates to swing into action. The city attracts attention for all kinds of reasons,but few outside realise that it is actually an interesting place in many ways. Madras was the first city of the British empire,although many think it is Calcutta that can lay claim to that title.

Many familiar institutions have their origins in Madras. The oldest regiment of the Indian Army is the Madras Regiment,raised in 1758 and now headquartered at Wellington,near Coonoor in Tamil Nadu. The first bank to be established in the country was the Madras Bank,founded by Governor Gifford at Fort St George in 1682/3. A government hospital in the modern sense has existed here since 1664. Next door to this hospital is the Madras Medical College,whose origins go back to the Madras Medical School,founded in 1835. The first Indian woman to acquire an MBBS degree was Muthulakshmi Reddy,who graduated in 1912. She was also the first Indian woman to become a legislator. Madras is also home to the Regional Ophthalmic Institute,which was founded as the Madras Eye Infirmary in 1819 — the oldest eye hospital in Asia and the second oldest in the world. The oldest engineering college outside Europe is the Guindy Engineering College,now a part of Anna University.

The Chennai Corporation is the second oldest civic body,predated only by the London Corporation. Tamil Nadu Archives is the oldest modern archive in the world,dating back to 1670. It has records in Dutch,English,Danish,Persian and Tamil. The first radio broadcasting service in India began in Madras with the Presidency Radio Club,founded in 1924.

This is all in the past. The state and the city have many things to be proud of today as well. At some point,its politicians recognised that the state should invite investment to create jobs.

Besides having a stupendous vehicle-manufacturing capacity,Chennai is also a global tyre-manufacturing hub — Michelin,Apollo,MRF,JK and Dunlop have large operations based in the city. Saint-Gobain’s facility in Chennai is the largest float glass-making operation in a single location worldwide. Hyundai exports to over 80 countries from Chennai and is the country’s largest car exporter. Chennai is India’s healthcare capital,with the some of the world’s best facilities for general,cardiac,eye,diabetes and trauma care. It is home to Asia’s largest private sector healthcare group,Apollo Hospitals. It is Samsung’s global manufacturing hub and Nokia’s global network management is led from Chennai. Nokia’s plant in Chennai is also the world’s largest mobile handset manufacturing factory.

Many are in the thrall of the Gujarat chief minister,who speaks of growth and development in his state. Tamil Nadu has been way ahead in taking steps to bring about inclusive growth. Growth and compassion have gone hand in hand here for over 50 years,starting with K. Kamaraj,the Congress chief minister. This is the state that pioneered the midday meal scheme,which brought many deprived children to school. It was the first state to introduce integrated education benefits,providing free education,text books and uniforms to the poor. Tamil Nadu’s healthcare systems have received recognition internationally and its insurance cover of the poor is quite comprehensive. It also has a number of schemes for girl children,women and pensioners. The state’s public distribution systems are efficient,whether it is the delivery of public services,healthcare or school education. Historically,its politicians have not tampered with welfare schemes.

But for some reason,Tamil politicians have never been good at projecting themselves. When the chief minister of Bihar distributed bicycles to girl students,it was widely publicised. What went unnoticed was that Tamil Nadu under Jayalalithaa had done it years ago. It is time the state learnt to feel pride in its achievements. Madras week is a good opportunity to do so.

sushila.ravindranath@expressindia.com

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