The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sweetened truths for CM

Calcutta July 23: What went wrong' asked Atal Bihari Vajpayee last Wednesday, and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was not amused.

Three days later, a group of businessmen told Bhattacharjee’s industrial spearhead what is wrong with Bengal. But the wish-list reeled out at the unpublicised meeting is unlikely to have touched a raw nerve in the chief minister as it came layered with an icing of applause.

The cocktail of complaint and compliment came at a meeting of the city-based business chambers convened on Saturday by Somnath Chatterjee, the chairman of the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation.

The list of grouses had the usual suspects — lack of a proper road network, high cost of electricity, recurring bandhs and the state’s inadequate representation at trade meets and fairs.

Participants at the meeting were unanimous that the perception about Bengal needs to be changed outside the state. And that it must start from the chief minister’s chamber.

“Recently, I requested Buddha (Bhattacharjee) to make frequent trips to other states and even abroad to showcase Bengal as an investment destination. He shouldn’t be bothered if political opponents call these missions pleasure trips. These initiatives are a must to bring in investment,” said Chatterjee.

But before the whispers of shortcomings came the full-throated cry of solidarity with a government miffed by Vajpayee’s plainspeak during the 150th anniversary of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce last week.

“We are doing business in the state for generations and we are aware of the reality. Image had been a problem in the past, but it’s improving,” said Hemant Kanoria, who was representing the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) at the meeting.

The “eagerness” from the government’s side to know the concerns of industry and the “enthusiasm” to sort them out made the meeting “different” from other all-chamber gatherings, said Nazeeb Arif, the secretary-general of the Indian Chamber of Commerce.

Chatterjee urged the industrial representatives to lobby hard the CII and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry — headed by non-resident Bengalis Tarun Das and Amit Mitra — for Bengal’s benefit.

But Chatterjee’s battle is not yet over. “I am writing a letter to the Prime Minister giving him a true picture of industry in the state. I will also be meeting him this Friday,” he said.

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