'We had made proposals to the government on what was the problem, what should be done and what needed to be done.'
'When we were not heard, we had to bring it to the attention of the people through any means.'
'Today, the dream of a start-up is shattered. We are not able to raise our voice, we are not able to express ourselves, we are not being heard. We are not able to convey our pain. An entrepreneur can never cry openly."'/p>
This was an emotional outburst from an entrepreneur at an event organised by the Congress party in Coimbatore, presided over by Rahul Gandhi.
And the video of this speech, tweeted by the Congress leader went viral, and the entrepreneur became a sensation, the Opposition hailing him as a hero, and ruling party members slamming him.
K E Raghunathan, convenor of the Consortium of Indian Associations, is an entrepreneur from Chennai.
In an interview to Shobha Warrier/Rediff.com, he talks about why he went to Coimbatore to talk about the pains an entrepreneur is going through.
"30% of MSMEs are almost dead, another 15% to follow," says Raghunathan.
Why did you decide to go to Coimbatore from Chennai and speak at an event organised by the Congress party?
Before answering the question, I have to go back a little.
I am an entrepreneur for the last 35 years in the field of solar energy.
I was the national president of the All India Manufacturers Association for three years. I was the president when demonetisation happened.
As I am a small-scale industrialist and an entrepreneur, I know the pains we are going through.
When I was the national president, once in three months, we used to conduct studies on what the micro and small enterprises were going through. And we passed on the findings to the government, acting as a bridge between what was happening in the field and what was decided at the policy level. Sometimes, we used to give early warning signals too.
After my role as the president was over last year, I saw that there were so many small associations in India but they were voiceless.
So, I decided to unite them under one umbrella, the Consortium of Indian Associations.
Then we did a study and a survey in June to understand the real problems faced by the small industries after the lockdown.
Our first report was about what should be done to help the MSMEs from closing down.
As many say, was it with demonetisation that all the problems faced by the MSMEs started?
Demonetisation was a speed-breaker. It put everybody on hold for two months. It took three months for people to recover from its impact as there was a revenue loss of 35% and a job loss of 65%.
If there was not another speed-breaker in the form of GST, probably most of them would have recovered as demonetisation was a short-term shock.
But GST was like a second major heart attack when the patient was in the ICU recovering from a mild heart attack.
It was an institutional flaw to introduce GST within six months of demonetisation.
I am not finding fault with the intention; the implementation was faulty. And it happened when the stakeholders were not prepared. As there was no alarm sign, we were taken aback.
It was no problem for the big companies. That was not the case with the small enterprises and owner-driven companies where the owner does everything from managing the company to taking care of the customers to collecting money.
Suddenly this man was expected to use 60% of his time on GST. And the moment he took eyes off the wheel, accidents started happening.
In our survey in June, we had categorised the MSMEs into three: Who is dead and cannot recover; who is hurt but can be brought back to life; and then, who is not hurt.
We found that almost 30% of all the MSMEs were likely to be impacted permanently.
We also found that if the lockdown continued for another 60 days, another 15% would not exist. Since the lockdown continued till October, what we predicted, happened.
We said that once we reopened, the biggest crisis would be lack of manpower, raw materials and capital.
See, we had highlighted this in June itself, and we wanted the government to prevent the problem from happening.
With the new categorisation of turnover as the criterion, the number of micro industries became 5 crores. So, under the MSMEs, 97%-98% come under the micro-enterprises now.
And we have been telling the government that we need handholding. So, we sent a series of recommendations to the government on the PMO portal.
We communicated with the NITI Aayog, and the finance minister's office through email, on Twitter, etc.
We thought something would happen but nothing happened. And the condition of the industry became worse.
The moratorium ended in September, and people were not able to repay the loan. The EMI bounce rate was 60%. The Supreme Court had not yet delivered the judgment.
People became worried and there were many suicides.
Though we highlighted all these problems with those in power, there was no response. No consultation. No recognition. No resolution.
But the pain had become unbearable for everyone.
Is that why you decided to speak openly at the Congress party meeting?
When I got a call from the Congress party asking whether I would be interested in participating in a meet presided over by Rahul Gandhi in Coimbatore, why should I let go of such an opportunity?
After all, I am representing an association. We have a problem, people are dying because of the problem.
We had made proposals to the government on what was the problem, what should be done and what needed to be done.
When we were not heard, we had to bring it to the attention of the people through any means.
We are like a person who is drowning; won't he seek anybody's attention for help?
So, when the Congress party gave me a platform to speak, I went.
As an entrepreneur?
Not as an entrepreneur but as the convenor of an association. I am the coordinator for 35 associations in this country.
I did not even mention my name while speaking at the meet. I only spoke on behalf of the Consortium of Indian Associations. My voice was the voice of the voiceless.
In my presentation to Rahul Gandhi, I said that an entrepreneur could not cry openly, and just because he was not crying, nobody should think there was no problem.
Then, I told him that he alone could solve the problem.
Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com