Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Bangalore - the gleaming IT hub hides a volatile core

Bangalore - the gleaming IT hub hides a volatile core
New Indian Express

BANGALORE: Days after leading IT powers here flashed spectacular third-quarter results, pockets of the city housing the forgotten masses broke into violence with several injured in the mindless arson that left parts of India's famed technology hub simmering with tension.

Bangalore, which has seen cyclical changes as Garden City, Pensioner's Paradise and, now, India's Silicon Valley, still harbours a volatile core.

The numbers are impressive -- Bangalore, home to nearly 1,500 technology companies, accounts for 40 percent of India's IT revenues. The $22 billion IT sector contributes 3.5 percent of India's gross domestic product. Firms in this southern city employ about 35 percent of India's pool of one million IT professionals. Accounting for the highest IT-related exports, the city's net domestic product is valued at $51.9 billion.

With such high stakes involved, any sign of trouble can be devastating. Inside the city of glaring contrasts, old values die hard even though the glint of the new totally blinds the eye.

Old Bangalore has again reared its ugly side even as new Bangalore continues with its mission impossible, seeking global highs regardless of infrastructural lows.

The slang Bangalored depicts the American angst about outsourcing-linked job losses but no similar coinage exists to describe the tormented internal divisions of a city, which overnight became a hotspot during India's tryst with globalisation. Beneath the veneer of the sophisticated comforts of an urban space that has gone places lie the discomforts of inequality and petty politics.

The inequalities erupted violently three days ago.

Arsonists set cars and bikes on fire and ransacked small shops, like a tailoring unit, on Sunday in Bharathinagar, which had witnessed communal violence on Friday during a rally to protest the execution of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

After people were wounded and facades of houses and commercial establishments damaged on Friday, ban orders were clamped in Bharathinagar, Shivajinagar and Commercial Street police station limits. Hundreds of demonstrators at Thimmaiah Road-Seppings Road junction surrounded Deputy Commissioner of Police (East) P. Muniswamy, demanding action against those who indulged in Friday's violence.

Bharathinagar legislator Nirmal Kumar Surana and other Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, who arrived at the scene, were also confronted by the protesters. Surana assured them that police would take necessary action. When they remained unconvinced, he took them to a nearby temple and said he had requested the police to arrest the accused immediately.

The next course of action was planned at the Viraat Hindu Samajotsava at Ulsoor, where one person was killed in police firing after a violence-marred meeting on Sunday evening.

Earlier, to reinforce public confidence, the police had staged a flag march through the areas that bore the brunt of Friday's violence. Shops and business establishments remained closed. The streets were almost deserted and traffic was thin. Police intensified patrolling in the area and deployed additional forces. It was as if peace could prevail only after a spell of chaos.

Civic unrest inevitably extracts a high toll. In April 2006, rioting by fans mourning the death of Kannada film icon Rajkumar cost the technology hub of Bangalore around $160 million, with software firms losing $40 million in revenues over a couple of days. After the terrorist attack on the Indian Institute of Science campus in December 2005, maintaining vigilance against external threat has been an essential step in keeping the outsourcing boom on track.

International investors have not been deterred so far as the IT firms go the extra mile to maintain high security inside their premises, but a tense climate outside is beyond their control.


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