The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cheers for Buddha open play

Calcutta, Dec. 13: Such applause would have been fitting at the Eden Gardens on Sourav Ganguly hitting a century.

At Taj Bengal today, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee — the chief minister and the Indian captain are a two-member mutual admiration society — had the crowd on its feet. And that after a mostly defensive innings.

Before an audience of 72 top businessmen and executives, who were here for the national council meeting of the Confederation of Indian Industry, Bhattacharjee was doing what chief ministers are expected to do these days: make a sales pitch.

He narrated the progress Bengal has made and how it intends to develop. It’s a story he has told earlier and businessmen have heard before.

Bengal’s “progress” did not earn him the applause. A frank admission of the reasons for the lack of it did.

Bhattacharjee confessed that the government had committed a serious mistake in the past in not paying attention to improving work culture and productivity. “That legacy is continuing.We are trying to change that attitude. We feel trade unions should help the management in its endeavour to increase productivity.”

The chief minister sounded tough when he said that the days of holding seminars or workshops with trade unions to make them understand the need to impose discipline were past. “We have to enforce certain things to enhance productivity… I am optimistic that work culture will return to this state.”

Clap, clap, clap. The standing ovation followed.

Quick on his feet was ITC chairman Y.C. Deveshwar who took the cue from the chief minister. “The Calcutta (ITC) factory has the highest quality standards. Internationally, it has the highest productivity. I can say there has been an attitudinal change among employees.”

Sanjiv Goenka, a city-based industrialist and vice-chairman of RPG Enterprises, did some pinch-hitting, too. “We have operations in 17 states. But our experience is the best in the state. It is a place to invest in.”

Bhattacharjee’s honest confession touched upcountry hearts. Jamshyd Godrej, managing director of Godrej & Boyce, said: “His acceptance of past mistakes only shows he is making strides in the right direction. He sounds business-like. This message should be communicated everywhere.”

Communicate. That is the message coming out of almost every recent industry gathering in the city. Ashok Soota, CII president, said so today. Rahul Bajaj, past president of CII and chairman of Bajaj Auto, was full of praise for Bhattacharjee. “He is simply outstanding.”

The chief minister told industry what it wanted to hear. When will industry tell him what he wants to hear: the tinkle of cash'

Not in a hurry. “There will be no sudden spurt in investments in West Bengal. In the last one year, industry has invested nowhere due to recession,” said Bajaj.

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