The Chief Minister returned a couple of weeks ago after a three-nation tour to promote foreign direct investment in the State. It is perhaps the first in several decades in the history of Tamil Nadu, the last CM to travel abroad being M.G. Ramachandran. The ruling party has been jubilant over the trip while the Opposition has quite naturally criticised the move, asking for a white paper on what has been achieved. There is, of course, much to be said, both for and against such visits, and it all depends on perspective.

While Tamil Nadu may not have seen its CMs travel abroad seeking foreign investments, it has been common practice in other States. N. Chandrababu Naidu was a frequent traveller and in recent times, Mamata Banerjee too has done the rounds seeking investments in West Bengal. Given that Tamil Nadu ranks far higher than most States when it comes to being a destination for industries, the question being asked is whether such a trip is warranted at all. After all, was this not the reason that previous incumbents never felt the need to move around? To that it can be said that circumstances have since changed and as de facto CEO of a State, the CM does need to travel and show the flag here and there. Moreover the earlier occupants were high-profile personalities in their own right, known among the diaspora, who really comprise the target audiences for such visits. That cannot be said of the present CM and so it is a good publicity exercise as well. 

That said, there is nothing wrong in the Opposition asking for a white paper on what was achieved during the visit. Prima facie, the details available in the public domain are scarce and do not point to a strong agenda – a visit to London to study ambulance facilities and the fight to control malaria there, a visit to Suffolk to see renewable energy facilities, meetings in the US with Foxconn and seeing animal husbandry facilities in that country – none of these really point to anything substantial. Of far greater benefit probably have been the meetings with the Indian diaspora in the US and in Dubai. The Government has since announced that MOUs worth Rs 2,780 crores have been signed. Employment generation projections from these have widely fluctuated from 20,000 to 37,000.

The point to be noted is that these are MOUs – and both parties can back off at anytime. And such big figures, and even bigger ones, have been touted around earlier, with very little materialising. The 2015 investors meet organised by the J. Jayalalithaa government, it was announced, had netted Rs. 2 lakh crore worth of investments. Four years later, very little of this has translated into reality. Earlier this year, we had another global investors’ meet and it was declared that Rs. 3 lakh crore worth of MOUs had been signed. There is no sign of industrial development on that scale anywhere in Tamil Nadu. The Opposition had asked for white papers even then but none has been forthcoming. 

On the political front however, the CMs visit has, it is said, achieved more – he has consolidated his position as party leader it is alleged. The party and the Government – which has thus far functioned as a duumvirate, the deputy CM being the significant other – has, it is said, increasingly rallied behind the CM. But that this is not the end of the story is manifest from the fact that several Cabinet Ministers have also announced their intention to travel abroad. On the agenda are matters such as education in Finland, fighting brush fire in Australia and night safaris in the Singapore Zoo. Perhaps the demand for a white paper is not unjustified.