This is the century of Private Capital. While governments involve themselves in waging wars and making life as difficult as possible for their citizens it is the private sector that is pushing forward the frontiers of economic development and spawning the innovations that will make life sustainable in the years to come. It is private enterprise and entrepreneurship again which is( happily for all of us) ensuring that governments are becoming more and more irrelevant to the life of the common citizen- whether it is Twitter and Facebook for information sharing, or Dupont and Suzlon for renewable energy sources of the future, or Amazon and Ali Baba for creating freer markets. It should surprise no one, therefore, that MacDonalds and Coca Cola have conquered more countries than all of Mr. Obama's armies, or that just the combined" Brand values" of just four companies- Apple, Google, Coca Cola and IBM- at US$ 380 billion, is more than the total foreign reserves of India!
In this changing environment, therefore, Mr. Modi is spot on in stressing the primacy of the private sector in developing the country's economy, in sectors as diverse as defense production, power, infrastructure, tourism, food processing, housing and so on. But he appears to have neglected one critical sector which of late has become a magnet for powerful politicians, bureaucrats, corporates and well connected criminals, a sector which is like, pardon the pun, a " holding" company for all kinds of dubious operators. I refer, of course, to our prisons.
I owe this path-breaking realisation to a very close friend of mine who is a successful hotelier in Shimla. Looking around for his next project, his usual fertile imagination bolstered by a couple of single malts, he voiced the desire to build a five-star hotel in Tihar Jail of Delhi, exclusively for its convicted inmates( or at least those who could afford to pay for it). If this sounds crazy to you, just list out the crazy ideas of a few decades ago which now go by brand names such as Gillette, KFC, Otis, Hoover, Ford, Frigidaire, or by product names such as submarines, steam engines, telephones, airplanes, even the humble condom for God's sake! To slightly alter a Shakespearean phrase-those whom the Gods would make billionaires, they first make crazy.
The more I think of a luxury hotel in Tihar the more sense it makes to me. After all, prisons in the Us and UK have been handed over to private companies for their running and management, and even Tihar has its own snacks making division, a furniture unit and even has a food-court, all under the brand name " TJ". Why not then a franchised hotel? I even examined the idea on the crucible of the three hallowed P's of marketing management- Product, Price and Promotion- and found it a winner on all counts. Let me share this with you.
PRODUCT. There is no doubt at all that there is a niche and unmet demand for this product i.e. a five star hotel in Tihar Jail. Firstly, with the change in govt. at the centre the list of erstwhile VIPs gradually lining up for admission to Tihar is growing by the day. These include politicians of the A. Raja and Kanimozhi variety whose brief sojourn earlier is likely to be followed by a more prolonged stay now that the 2G case is reaching its end, Kalmadi and Sheila Dixit whose ( commonwealth) game is almost over, Lalu Yadav and Jayalalitha and maybe even Mamatadi and Mayawati if the CBI is allowed to get on with its investigations unimpeded and the Supreme Court takes fewer vacations. Add to this the captains of industry involved in the 2G and Coal scam cases, Augusta Westland and other assorted scams too numerous to list. And of course, how can we forget those who are already ensconced in Tihar or other jails, earning loyalty reward points- Sahara Shri, Sudipta Roy, Kunal Ghose, or those, like Mr. Mallya, who should have been there much earlier, Sanjay Dutt whose bulging biceps rule out his own release on medical grounds and therefore his wife has to perforce fall ill every few months. Scattered among these heavy weights will doubtless be some bureaucrats or bank managers who thought that their fat pensions did not do justice to their talents.
These gentlemen( and ladies) would pay anything to be provided in Tihar the comforts they are used to- this is the nub and heart of my friend's brilliant concept. Right now they get barely a fraction of the luxuries they desire, and that too by devious means-false medical certificates to obtain parole or get admitted to super speciality hospitals, generous contributions to the jailors' post retirement corpus for special favours such as special VIP cells and servings of biryani, killing off a relative now and then in order to attend the funeral simply to get out for some time.
All this poses a massive headache for the courts and the governments. And things are about to get worse. At least one ex-but-de-facto Chief Minister and one potential Chief Minister are all set to establish their offices and secretariats in jail and rule from there , surrounded by pimps and rapists and murderers. Very soon, other than Mr. Subrata Roy, there will be other corporate honchos wanting to sell their assets to get bail or liquidate their loans or to pay their fines- how many corporate offices can Tihar be expected to provide on the Sahara model? No indeed, this is a deluge that the government cannot counter by itself-it needs the services of entrepreneurs like my friend from Shimla.
A luxury hotel in Tihar would resolve all these problems at one stroke-five star accommodation, multi national cuisine, all corporate facilities, wi-fi, access to hawala accounts. Given the inventiveness of our private sector I have no doubt that soon the basic product would be tweaked to offer all kinds of special packages: for example, a Corporate Package( or discount) for two or more CEOs booking in as a group, a Bail Package for two days and one night for those who intend to stay only till their bail petitions are approved, a Nuptial Package( two nights and one day) for those wanting to be reacquainted with their wives, a Parliamentary package for our legislators, a Repeat Offender package for inmates gracing the jail more than once. There could even be a Chief Ministerial suite( they'll probably need more the way things are shaping up). Of course all payments will have to be made in cash since the guests could hardly be trusted with any money-if they could they wouldn't be here in the first place.
PRICE. This is not an issue considering that the combined wealth of all these worthies would probably be more than the GDP of all our neighbours, with the exception of China.
PROMOTION. Most of this would be by word of mouth and hoardings put up outside prime catchment areas such as Parliament, corporate offices of companies, Stock Exchanges, major studios in Bollywood conveying messages such as TIHAR ME ACCHE DIN AAGAYE or TIHAR-THE KING OF GOOD TIMES or THE PERFECT ESCAPE-TIHAR REGENCY. Being a captive market, pardon the pun again, the expenditure on promotion would be negligible, adding to the viability of the project.
Tihar Regency would be the perfect product-a win-win for all: the consumer, the promoter, the government and even the courts who would be rid finally of all those frivolous applications for parole, health check-ups, attendance at funerals, sitting for exams etc.which so far have not served the cause of justice one iota but have certainly enriched the likes of Mr. Ram Jethmalani and Salman Khurshid no end.
My hotelier friend is preparing a project report for submission to the central government. He still has one problem, though: where does he find a Chief Guest for inaugurating Tihar Regency? If you think you have an answer please do leave a comment.