August 05, 2013

Business meet was momentous

What was the implication of chief minister Mamata Banerjee's meeting with business leaders in Mumbai this past week?

Apart from being the most successful interaction between a chief minister from Kolkata and a top-flight representation of corporate India in living memory, what did it suggest?

As somebody who has watched and worked with Mamatadi for over a decade now, the event was momentous. It marked the inauguration of phase two of her public career and commitment to West Bengal.

Phase one had begun on January 1, 1998, when Mamatadi founded the Trinamool Congress.
History was not on her side. Her viability as an independent politician as well as her ability to unseat the CPI(M) were mocked.

Twice previously, Congress politicians from West Bengal had broken away.
Ajoy Mukherjee did it in the 1960s and became a short-lived chief minister but then went into oblivion.
Pranab Mukherjee founded a regional party in the 1980s. It contested all 294 assembly seats but won zero. Soon afterwards, Mukherjee returned to his parent party.

Congress rebels elsewhere had mixed success.
In 1996, G K Moopanar and P Chidambaram founded the Tamil Maanila Congress but were back in the Congress in a few years.
Sharad Pawar's NCP has sustained itself for 15 years but still has to share power in Maharashtra.

Mamatadi has outdone all of them.
She triumphed in the 2009 Lok Sabha election and, two years later, won an absolute majority in the state assembly.
From September 2012 she has ruled West Bengal on her own, unencumbered by the Congress alliance.
On July 29, 2013, she took her 40-year struggle to a closure by sweeping the panchayat elections and establishing Trinamool's grip in rural Bengal.

No breakaway leader from the Congress has achieved so much in eastern India since Biju Patnaik.


From political activism, Mamatadi has subtly shifted gears to governance and economic development.

A telling example of this was her visit to Mumbai.
Hitherto the business capital of India had been a transit point; for the first time, it became a destination. Business leaders seemed to recognise this. Trinamool's repeated electoral successes had established it as unchallenged in West Bengal, helming a stable government.

Mamatadi herself was seen as a transparent and well-meaning problem-solver, heading a flat structure in government and willing to help.

It caused Chanda Kochhar, chief of ICICI Bank, to say, "We have seen your passion on television; today we felt it in person."
Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries is rolling out his 4G telecom venture in West Bengal ahead of most of the rest of India. As he put it in Mumbai, "Forty-eight hours after a big election victory you are here in the business capital. That means you mean business."

This prompted ITC's Yogi Deveshwar, a fellow Calcuttan whose stake in West Bengal's economic revival is second to none, to quip: "Chief Minister, you have won the day... Mukesh has committed, so now many more will follow."

ITC has invested Rs 3,000 crore in a food processing facility in Uluberia.
This project was stuck for 10 years because of land issues.
Mamatadi called for the papers and said, "Let's sort it out."
Without fanfare, she cut the red tape and released the 26 acres to ITC.


West Bengal's economy is looking up. Statistics bear this out.
The state GDP grew 7.6 per cent in 2012-13, as opposed to the national figure of 4.96 per cent.
Growth in industry, agriculture and services all outpaced national growth rates.
According to the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, between January and July 2013, West Bengal attracted investment worth Rs 1,331 crore.
Investment for the entire year was Rs 632 crore in 2009, Rs 1,163 crore in 2010, Rs 325 crore in 2011 and Rs 962 crore in 2012.

There are still five months to go in 2013. Forty-one investment proposals worth Rs 1,744 crore are pending. This year will break records.

So much is happening:

  • The Sajjan Jindal Group's steel plant - even though confused policies by the central government have caused an iron ore shortage
  • Anil Ambani's Rs 600 crore cement venture in Raghunathpur (Purulia)
  • The JV between Singapore's Changi Airport and Bengal Aerotropolis for a new airport in Andal (near Durgapur) is to get its final clearances in a few weeks

The big story in the coming months will be the disinvestment in Haldia Petrochemicals.
Six bidders - three from the public sector and three from the private sector - are participating in an auction conducted by Deloitte.

It is a thoroughly professional arrangement. The politicians are not interfering. The chief minister is not showing undue interest. There is not even a hint of cronyism.

This is what business wants. This is what business is getting in West Bengal. This is what business is coming to appreciate about the Trinamool government.

The reception Mamatadi got in Mumbai was evidence.