Kolkata: West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee may be getting ready to bury the hatchet with Tata group chairman Ratan Tata.
Banerjee is all set to appeal to Tata and other industry leaders to invest in West Bengal, following her victory in the recent elections and the defeat of the Communists, putting an end to their rule of 34 years in the state. The sales pitch will be made by Banerjee at an 18 June conclave in Kolkata that’s being billed as the biggest ever such meeting in the state. Others on the invitation list include Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani, ITC chairman Y.C. Deveshwar, Wipro chief Azim Premji, Infosys chief executive officer and managing director S. Gopalakrishnan and Sajjan Jindal of JSW. The complete list isn’t ready yet.
While several states have conducted such investor meets that have been well attended, this doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the pledges made will actually come to fruition.
State finance minister Amit Mitra, who is preparing the guest list in consultation with Banerjee, said that the response has been overwhelming. It helps that Mitra is well connected in industry circles, having been secretary general of the industry lobby Ficci for several years, apart from having occupied various senior corporate positions.
He said efforts would be made to ensure the summit won’t be full of promises that aren’t kept.
“The interaction is going to be not just empty talk. She’s going to project West Bengal and her future road map for the state and industrial resurgence. It’s going to be a one-to-one interaction and I will be doing the follow-up work,” said Mitra, who made it clear that just signing memoranda of understanding (MoUs) would not be enough.
The message will be that the present government is industry-friendly and is ready to do its bit in providing a conducive atmosphere for investment.
“Her approach will be positive. It’s going to be a heart-to-heart talk on what she expects from the corporate houses and what they expect from the new government. She’ll be inviting suggestions from the industrialists as to how to improve the infrastructure. She’ll be talking in favour of development, growth and this won’t be possible without investment,” said Trinamool Congress Legislature Party chief whip Sovondev Chattopadhyay.
The chief minister will be accompanied by the industry and finance ministers at the summit.
Banerjee has already sought to repair ties with Tata by personally responding to his congratulatory message, wishing him success and seeking his support. The conclave is being seen as an opportunity for a face-to-face meeting between the two.
An agitation led by Banerjee in 2006-07 against alleged forcible land acquisition in Singur for Tata Motors’ Nano factory compelled the company to shift its unit from there, moving eventually to Sanand in Gujarat. When the Nano was launched, Tata referred to the hurdles he had to face by saying the car was launched “despite Mamata”.
Banerjee was dubbed anti-industry and anti-development for having killed off the Nano project and the attendant employment potential by the Left Front, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM.
She has been trying hard to shake off the tag since then and months after taking over the Union railway ministry organized a business meet in November 2009, inviting the chambers of commerce and industrialists based in West Bengal in a bid to change her image. The idea was to pass on the message that she was not anti-industry but against forcible land acquisition.
She followed this up by organizing an interactive session with businessmen on Diwali. She also announced before the elections that she would end the culture of strikes and militant trade unionism that has hampered industrial growth in West Bengal.
The conclave is to be held at Alipur Belvedere Club. On earlier occasions, Banerjee’s guests have included Sanjiv Goenka of RPG group, Harsh Neotia of Ambuja Realty, Pawan Ruia of Dunlop, non-resident Indian businessman Prasoon Mukherjee of Universal Success, S.K. Roy of Peerless and Karan Paul of the Apeejay Surrendra Group.
“She has the rare quality to connect with the poorest of the poor and the richest of rich,” said RPG group chairman Sanjiv Goenka.
Banerjee’s conclave is being compared with the many business meets held by former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Banerjee’s predecessor, that didn’t live up to their billing.
CPM state secretariat member Robin Deb said Banerjee was echoing the line of the former Left Front government.
“We have been saying industrialization is a necessity for development and they went hammer and tongs on that,” he said. “Now their line is not different from ours. They are also trying to bring in the Tatas.”