Kolkata: Mamata Banerjee, the tough-talking Trinamool Congress (TC) chief who led the campaign that drove Tata Motors Ltd’s Nano project out of West Bengal, hosted a lavish pre-Diwali and Bijoya Sammilani dinner on Monday for corporate bigwigs in the state.
The dinner, said analysts, was part of a bid to shed her anti-industry label ahead of assembly elections in West Bengal, the politician’s home state. The polls are around six months away.
Banerjee, the Union railway minister, is also the leader of the opposition party in the state assembly. In recent years, she has emerged as a strong rival to the ruling Left Front in West Bengal and is now being seen as a contender for the chief minister’s chair.
The dinner venue was a wedding hall in Ballygunge, south Kolkata, which falls in her Lok Sabha constituency. Bijoya Sammilani marks the culmination of the Durga Puja festivities.
The guest list of at least 150 people included Harsh Neotia, chairman of Ambuja Realty Development; S. Radhakrishnan, managing director of outsourcing firm Descon Ltd; Sanjeev Goenka, vice-chairman of RPG Enterprises; M.K. Jalan, chairman of agro products and realty infrastructure firm Keventer group; Kalyan Kar, managing director, Acclaris, an outsourcing firm; and Sanjay Budhia, managing director of Patton group.
“Since she’s a senior leader and on top of that (the) railway minister, the response is definitely going to be good,” said Patton group’s Budhia, who planned to take time out from attending a documentary film festival his firm was co-sponsoring to be at the dinner.
Over the past few weeks, whether during campaigns in Maoist-dominated Purulia, Midnapore or Bankura, or in the industrial belt of Burdwan, Banerjee has been talking about promoting industry.
Last Friday, inaugurating a railway project, she said: “Industry will strike gold. If industry survives, everyone else will, and there will be an industrial revolution in Bengal.”
Both Banerjee’s anti-industry tag as well as her political fortunes in a state ruled for nearly three decades by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, gained from her campaign against Tata Motors’ Nano project in Singur, West Bengal, in 2007-08.
Tata eventually was forced to shift the factory site to Sanand in Gujarat. She’s had a series of electoral successes since, including in the panchayat elections in West Bengal in 2008 and in the Parliament elections in 2009.
“It (the dinner) sends the signal that she is not against industrialization,” said Abhirup Sarkar, professor, economic research unit, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata.
“I think she has been categorical that she has no issues against industrialization. There’s no alternative to industrialization so far as the state’s growth is concerned and she has never been against it,” he added.
In her defence in the Nano controversy, Banerjee has said she was against “forcible acquisition of land” and not against industry.
Trinamool Congress leader Sovondev Chattopadhyay said the dinner was an opportunity for Banerjee to shore up confidence in her among business houses, which may be apprehensive about her after Singur.
But according to Shyamali Gupta, state committee member, CPM, Banerjee doesn’t have much choice. “Whatever Mamata Banerjee might be saying to gain popularity among rural voters (against industrialization), she, her party, actually represent the liberalization economy and, therefore, she cannot ignore the industrialists,” she said.
Industrialists are welcoming Banerjee’s new stance with open arms. “It’s quite nice and reassuring to hear her speak in favour of industrialization and employment generation,” said Descon’s Radhakrishnan. “Whoever encourages industry will be well received by us.”
Kar of Acclaris said he believed in looking forward than digging into the past.
“We would like to tell her that we need a conducive environment to work, which I am sure, she would ensure,” Kar said. “Bengal—from its resources, human, natural, strategic location—is the right destination for industrial expansion and if she takes the initiative of a pro-industrial atmosphere, she’s more than welcome.”