CEO – SODEXO Benefits & Rewards Services. Alumnus of IIM Calcutta
In this essay, I shall attempt to apply the SWOT (Strengths – Weaknesses – Opportunities – Threats) framework not to any market, company or product but to the state of Bengal.
Let us start with Strengths. I believe that one of Bengal’s biggest strengths is its location. Not only is it the gateway to the north-eastern states and neighbouring south-east Asian countriesbut its geography is also quite unique, with the mighty Himalayas on its northern border overlooking highly fertile plains and an extensive coastline to the south, home to a rare ecosphere of mangrove forests and the largest tiger population in the world.Much has been said about the intellectual capital of Bengalis but I would like to mention here a lesstalked about strength – Their liberalism. For centuries, Calcutta has been a melting pot of races, religions, professions and cultures; impartingto the people of the state a visceral quality of not just tolerance but appreciation of diversity.This quality remains strongly evident in Bengalis, as well as naturalised non-Bengali communities especially from the capital, wherever they are in India or overseas.
Coming to Weaknesses, I know several people who could rattle off a long list but they would all agree that lack of jobs is the primary weakness of the state. At the moment, it is a major national priority too but Bengal is undoubtedly worse off than comparable states; forcing huge numbers of people, from the educated elite to artisans and labourers, to migrate to other regions for gainful work. Perhaps this weakness is the outcome of several factors–History, politics, economics and I daresay, plain bad luck.But the fact remains that employment is the key driver of growth, and Bengal’s downward spiral can only be reversed by generating more jobs in the state.
Moving to Opportunities, I would like to highlight two among many. The first is tourism. It is my view that Bengal has seriously under-sold its potential as a destination of choice for Indians and foreigners alike. Rare in the world is a place where you can enjoy a sea beach and snow-capped mountains in a single day, not to mention the immense bounty of history and heritage that Bengal is blessed with.The urgent need of the hour is to push both public and private investments into tourism infrastructure, connectivity, hospitality and of course, marketing.The second opportunity for Bengal is to project itself as a start-up hub. Prima facie, this may seem unlikely but if one lists down the major requirements viz. human capital, urban infrastructure, angel investment and government incentives, the first three are already present in abundance in Bengal and the last one can easily be provided if the intent is right. There was a time when the average Bengali had little entrepreneurial appetite but things have changed over the past couple of generations, including the presence of a sizeable diaspora happy to reverse migrate to their home state for the right opportunity.
Finally, we cannot ignore the Threat of negative perception that has dogged Bengal for so many decades, be it about the people, work culture or ease of doing business. This perception is deeply entrenched but here again, I submit that a lot has changed on the ground, especially in this millennium. When I was the Kolkata centre head of a multinational technology company some years back, I didn’t find any significant differences in the quality or productivity of the workforce in comparison to that in other metros. If anything, there was greater hunger and ambition to prove a point or three to the naysayers.
In conclusion, I will leave it to each reader to arrive at her or his own recommendations for –Bengal but I remain hopeful of a resurgence. Very hopeful.