Search This Blog

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Remembering GA Meon, IT Tsar of Kerala

It is tougher for an industrialist with integrity to survive in Kerala than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. But late Goplala Achutha Menon, founder of Toonz Animation India and the first chairman of UST Global was one of the few industrialists who proved this wrong. Menon a harbinger of IT industry in Kerala not merely survived in this red rampart but was eminently successful too.

Average Keralite might not have heard much about this visionary businessman despite being one of the biggest job providers in the state. However he was one of the rare Malayalis who contributed to his homeland more than he inherited. He tried for the industrialisation of Kerala despite the challenges he faced. He was equally at ease in Beverley Hills in the US where he lived and at the orthodox small town of Thiruvananthapuram.   Menon was wonderfully successful in the US, Singapore and Kerala, is a perfect reply to those NRI industrialists who search for the key to tackle complex problems in the state known for its hartals and anti-capitalist movements.

Menon had umpteen achievements to his credit, but the common man in Kerala first noticed him only a few years before his death and that too was for a different reason. In this controversy loving South Indian state, Menon first hit the headlines of leading dailies when an eternal litigant Nawab Rajendran served a notice on him for allegedly serving drinks in public without a license. The reason was Menon’s Cadillac extended limousine was said to have a well stocked bar.  Menon’s Cadillac rolling through the dingy roads of Kerala was a wonder then and magazines wrote about it.

Stepping to Kerala’s industrial sector

Despite his status as an Electronics Tsar, Menon’s entry into Kerala’s industrial arena was with a proposal to set up a Rs 6000 crore petrochemical complex. It did not take off.  However Menon did not back out and eventually set up two companies in IT sector showing the state its right way to industrialization.

Many remember Menon as a person of ethics and right strategy and perhaps that was why his personality attracted even left leaders with integrity like CPI leader and former Kerala chief minister P.K Vasudevan Nair. Menon never flaunted his influence and believed in progress through the right way. He was never one of the businessmen who wanted to be in the limelight of media though he interacted with media persons regularly. This is one of the reasons why this blog chose to remember the contributions of Menon who was one of the top industrialists from Nair community in Kerala. We are not sure Menon was in anyway associated with social organizations of Nair community like NSS. However, Menon’s contributions to Kerala as a whole make him worth remembering.

Early stages
Born in the picturesque sleepy coastal area of North Paravur in Ernakulam district in Kerala, Menon majored in Mathematics from Madras University. At that time  many  Keralaites used to go to  Madras University  for their higher studies. He is reported to have begun career as a statistician at Thackerse Moolijee Group of Textile Mills in Mumbai. Later he took an MBA from Harvard and moved to IBM where he occupied different managerial positions for 15 years.
After IBM closed operations in India in he joined ComCraft group in Singapore. He became chairman of many companies in Chandaria group. In Singapore, he set up Multi Tech systems which merged with Venture Manufacturing Singapore in 1989 and is one of the largest electronics manufacturing industries in the world now.
His success seems to be associating with the right partners and using the opportunity to grow along with the organisation. He occupied a prominent position in the electronics industry in the world for forty years; not a simple achievement.
He co-founded Magnecomp Corporation in the USA (a wholly-owned subsidiary) in 1984 together with Mr Wesley H. Burkhart. The companies that he chaired are many and versatile.  It is difficult to name all the companies founded by him or chaired by him.

Menon’s contribution to Kerala

Menon’s eminence lies in the fact that he returned to his home state where he tried to contribute for its industrialization despite the challenges. He showed the example as to which type of industry is suited for Kerala considering its geographical, social, demographical and educational capacities.

He is reported to be one of those who played a seminal role in the formation of TiE Kerala, with the aim of fostering entrepreneurship in Kerala. It is not known whether the organization had achieved its aims in Kerala. Menon is also reported to have contributed to the formation of the Kerala Support Group at California, aimed at entrepreneurial development in his home state, Kerala.

An active man throughout his life Menon passed away in a Los-Angeles bound flight from Singapore in December 2, 2003 at the age of only 72.  It is doubtful if Menon got the accolades he deserved from his home. When every NRI businessmen is being honored with Padma titles Menon eminently deserved to be honored much more for showing the path of IT and IT enabled services for the growth of Kerala. We Nairs can definitely be proud of G A Menon, an eminent member of community who rose as a world leader in his area of expertise. Let Nair youths learn from his life and work.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

NSS, SNDP, Hindu Unity and its political implications in Kerala

Nairs and Ezhavas, two major communities in Kerala formally decided to unite on issues affecting both communities and work for a broader Hindu unity in Kerala in June 2012 after many previous aborted efforts. Political parties like CPI (M), Congress and Muslim League have become wary after this new move and they have openly expressed their uneasiness at this development. Clearly this means the unity has the potential to change Kerala politics. But when is it going to change Kerala politics and how? Moreover which party will benefit from this and which party will lose?

Demographical significance of the unity
Nairs and Ezhavas together constitute around 35 per cent of the state population and nearly 80 per cent of Hindu population in Kerala. So even if a 10 per cent of total membership of NSS and SNDP votes according to orders of NSS and SNDP leadership it will swing election results in nearly 80 per cent of assembly constituencies in the state. So definitely the unity has significance. Now Nairs and Ezhavas are spread across the state which means election results of constituencies where Congress, Kerala Congress (Mani) and CPI and CPI (M) are influential will be altered. Such constituencies are in all districts of Kerala except Malappuram. Winning chances of Muslim League in a large number of constituencies won’t be affected as Muslims are mostly concentrated in a few constituencies where they form more than 50 per cent of population. However ML’s candidates from those constituencies where Muslims do not constitute that majority will be affected.

In the traditional voting pattern which was evident till early 90s majority of Nairs in Central and South Kerala usually voted for Congress while lower classes among Ezhavas used to support Left parties, especially CPM and CPI throughout Kerala. The upper middle classes and upper classes among Ezhavas used to support Congress mainly. In South Kerala, especially in Pathanamthitta and Kottayam districts upper caste Christians and Nairs used to vote together and Kerala Congress (Mani) group which is a Christian majority party used to benefit. They used to some positions to their Nair leaders also including minister post at times. In all the constituencies where Kerala Congress wins Ezhavas also have significant population and if Nairs and Ezhavas unite and decide to vote against Kerala Congress it will have little hope.

So it seems all parties except Muslim League will be directly affected by Nair-Ezhava unity if it really translates to unity in voting at least among a minority of both communities.

How Congress, Kerala Congress (Mani) and CPI and CPI (M) going to tackle new development

First option for political parties will be to break the unity at state level or regional levels. For this political parties may exploit weaknesses against NSS and SNDP leadership either by offering the freebies or threatening them. There are many allegations against leaderships of NSS and SNDP and some of them have even cases against them in different issues. NSS and SNDP run many institutions and including educational institutions and hospitals. They need active support of authorities to run these hassle free. Threat of action against leadership may work in certain conditions and will force some community leaders to make secret support to individual leaders. Many local level leaders of NSS and SNDP are people with diverse interests and are susceptible to influences.

Some of the state level leaders of CPM and Congress have good individual relations with NSS and SNDP leadership. They are bound to get support of these organizations on individual basis even if Congress or CPM don’t get support.

BJP’s prospects and Nair-Ezhava unity

Though Nair-Ezhava (NSS and SNDP) leaders speak of Hindu unity in Kerala it is unlikely that Hindu unity will directly translate to victory of BJP. The reason is BJP leaders in Kerala from Nair and Ezhava community do not command a large support base in own communities which they can bring for BJP. In other words BJP does not have many leaders with mass base here. They don’t bring votes to party; they get only votes of those who are committed to Hindutva ideology.

However Nair-Ezhava unity will indirectly create an atmosphere in Kerala for popularizing Hindutva ideology and that will benefit BJP. The growing fear of extremism and terrorism among Nairs and Ezhavas and growing influence of Muslim community economically and socially in Kerala have created insecurity feeling among Nairs and Ezhavas. This has already worked for the benefit of BJP and will deepen its influence in future. Another factor is rapid social changes in Kerala and affluence of minority is slowly making all Hindu castes forget their difference and come together. So this will also work to the benefit of BJP.

Will Christians eventually support Nair-Ezhava unity
Christian leadership may have apprehensions about Nair-Ezhava unity in the initial stages and they will wait to see how things will turn out.  If they find that it has become a reality and cannot be broken they are likely to side with the new combination. Traditionally a significant section of upper caste Christians in Kerala are in harmony with Hindus and if united Nair-Ezhava community is willing to accommodate them, Christian leadership is likely to strike a harmony with them.

In several local bodies in south and central kerala BJP has won with support of Kerala Congress (Mani) and vice versa. This could happen in assembly and lok sabha election also. Once as NDA candidate PC Thomas won from Muvattupuzha Lok Sabha seat which has more than 30 per cent Christian votes. He defeated both UDF and LDF candidates then. It means with the right candidate, BJP can bring about a Hindu-Christian consolidation for its candidates at least in certain parts of Kerala.

Eventual situation
Nair-Ezhava unity will help Nair and Ezhava leaders in both Congress and CPM to win election and claim their stakes in wake of increasing population of Muslims in Kerala. However rise of credible leaders in BJP who can influence masses will turn the tide and will pave way to rise of that party in Kerala.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

NSS spurns Oommen Chandy’s offer to mend ties

Nair Service Society General Secretary G Sukumaran Nair has rejected Kerala CM Oommen Chandy’s reported offer to hold talks to sort out differences between NSS and Congress and Kerala government.

Malayalam media reports today (July 20, 2013)that Sukumaran Nair noted that Chandy’s new friendship offer is part of his tactics. “We reject his offer with contempt,” said Nair. According to Nair NSS is not ready to hold discussion with those who belittled us. Nair said Oommen Chandy has been showing a hostile attitude towards NSS.

However later in the day reacting to the new statement of Nair, Chandy said NSS has the right to declare their stand adding that Congress continue to share good relations with all social and religious organizations.

NSS general secretary was responding to media persons at NSS headquarters Changanassery who pointed out to him Oommen Chandy’s statement that he has good relations with NSS. Relations between NSS and Chandy ruptured following an alleged violation of understanding between NSS and Congress high command by Chandy. NSS alleges that while Congress high command had assured it to appoint Hindu leaders in Congress in key positions in Kerala’s Congress lead UDF ministry, Chandy had subverted it. Following this NSS had stated NSS and Congress won’t share friendly relations anymore.

Without mincing words Nair said Congress central leadership and Kerala leadership don’t have the right to utter the word discussion with NSS hinting that they have made a mockery of previous discussions. The attitude of NSS towards Congress won’t change even if Ramesh Chennithala (a Hindu Congress leader) is given any position in government. NSS which had a pro-UDF attitude doesn’t have any soft corner for UDF now, said Nair. NSS has the capacity to lend its support to whichever political party it deems fit, said Nair.

Speaking on the education sector in Kerala Nair said the scene is similar to that of a sugarcane field where an elephant has entered. Nair said the attitude of Left Democratic Front towards demands of NSS in the education sector was better. They had an open mind to our demands and were not averse to creative solutions, he said.

Significance of Chandy’s new friendship offer

There is significance in the new move of Oommen Chandy who is beleaguered in Solar Panel Scam.  Revelations on the scam bringing out evidences of influence of a company floated by two criminals in Chandy’s office have now made it difficult for Chandy to continue. In this context, Chandy cannot afford enmity of NSS. Earlier Muslim League leader and industries minister P K Kunhalikkutty had met SNDP general secretary Vellappally Natesan and had given assurances to him regarding demands of SNDP in education sector. There had been reports that Natesan had watered down his opposition to UDF after Kunhalikkutty’s meeting and NSS-SNDP unity had developed cracks. However allegations were dismissed by Natesan later.

The overtures of UDF leaders to SNDP and NSS who have reportedly entered into an alliance as part of Hindu unity in Kerala achieves significance as Lok Sabha elections approach. Congress and allies used to win around 80 per cent of the 20 Lok Sabha seats in the state and in the coming election Congress badly needs to retain this trend. This will not be possible if NSS and SNDP opposes it. This may be the reason why UDF is now extending an olive branch to NSS. Moreover Congress seems to be rattled at the possibility of gains to BJP lead by Narendra Modi if NSS-SNDP unity continues in Kerala.

NSS’s strict stand against Congress is unlikely to discourage Chandy. This is clear from the reaction of Chandy that NSS has every right to decide its policy. Congress will continue to make new offers to NSS and SNDP. There are going to be intense efforts to split NSS-SNDP unity. Weaknesses of SNDP and NSS leadership are likely to be exploited. While NSS seems to be retaining a hard stand against Congress SNDP may not. Meanwhile, Hindu leaders in Congress may devise new strategies to win support for them from NSS and SNDP on an individual basis. In the coming days perhaps they will work hard that even if NSS doesn’t support Congress, it will support them.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Nairs in cashew industry, a commendable example for the community

Nairs are not a business community and therefore no particular business could be termed as traditional business of Nairs.However a few enterprising Nairs of Kollam through their vision and hard work have made Cashew industry in Kerala a forte of Nairs.

It would be astonishing to learn that some enterprising Nairs of Kollam ventured to cashew processing business as early as 1930s when vestiges of feudalism were still strong and businessmen were  looked down upon by orthodox Nairs who considered government jobs as the ultimate achievement. The happiest part of this is future generations of these harbingers continue to flourish in cashew business.


Though Cashew processing was started in Kollam by a Sril Lankan National in 1920s, and a few others also had ventured into the area, it was two Nairs Vendor Krishna Pillai, and Poyilakkada Parameshwaran Pillai who gave Cashew industry its status as a major processing and exporting business in Kerala. Apart from business activities Vendor Krishna Pillai held an active interest in social activities too and had considerable influence in the industrial town of Kollam in Southern Kerala. Once he even contested in election against a popular Congress leader as an independent candidate giving jitters to the leader.

Vendor Krishna Pillai’s children and nephews continued the legacy of their father/uncle and his nephew K Janardhanan Pillai at one stage was the biggest cashew exporter in India. His son K Ravindranathan Nair who owns Vijayalakshmi Cashew is the largest cashew exporter in India currently. Janardhanan Pillai’s son K.J Rajan Pillai was once the chairman of Brittania Industries. His brother Rajmohan Pillai is now chairman of Beta empire, a multinational business conglomerate in food processing.

Ravindranathan Nair has made a mark in film industry also by promoting famous directors Aravindan and Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Nair is the producer of majority of films of these two film makers. Moreover Nair has made liberal contributions worth millions of Indian rupee for public causes in Kollam. It is noteworthy that grandchildren of Vendor Krishna Pillai are also leaders in cashew business in Kollam.

Poyilakkada Parameshwaran Pillai also recorded phenomenal success in cashew industry. From a small factory the KPP group has grown into one of the leaders in cashew business and has extended into other areas like entertainment and logistics. Pillai’s son P Gangadharan Pillai was once not only a leading industrialist in Kollam but also a public figure. A leader of Nair Service Society, Pillai also worked for the cause of Nairs, the community in which he was born. All his brothers and their children also continue to be leaders in cashew business.

Lessons for Nairs

All these prove that if Nairs can excel as bureaucrats, military/police personnel, diplomats, artistes and intelligentsia, they can excel in business also. A small group of Nairs in Kollam have proved it beyond doubt and their legacy is enduring after generations.

Now let us think how these businessmen helped Nairs, their own community. Hundreds of people, a large number of them Nairs, from Kollam, southern part of Alappuzha and parts of Thiruvananthapurm, work in cashew factories of these Nair businessmen. Success of these Nairs in cashew industry has encouraged more Nairs to venture into the industry. Slowly at least Kollam and nearby areas the dislike of Nairs for business has given way to an interest in business. Sure success breeds more success. These people have definitely set an example for other Nairs.

Active intervention of at least a section of these people in society has helped many Nairs including politicians. Some of these businessmen used to support talented Nairs from other sections.

Much more to do

However it is doubtful whether Nair businessmen in Kollam have cooperated with Nair organizations like NSS to the extent expected from them. Nairs need to have more educational institutions, healthcare institutions, leadership and business training centres and charity organisations in Kollam in tune with the clout of the community. They could also start an angel fund for helping enterprising young investors among Nairs. Hope businessmen belonging to Nair community will do something on their own or cooperate with organizations of Nairs to help the community.