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CM bats for foreign investment
- Years after coining ‘gherao’, Bengal rephrases priority with pride of place to FDI

New Delhi, July 31: With a touch of remorse, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today acknowledged that his party contributed “gherao” to the dictionary.

Then, with a hint of pride, he held aloft a lexicon that featured a more modern-day abbreviation: FDI.

Standing a few miles away from where the CPM was putting together a council that will guard against reform rapier thrusts, the chief minister today asserted that the Left was not against foreign direct investment and was in fact courting it in Bengal.

“Let me make it very clear, we are not against FDI. We have been inviting FDI in our state.... Of Japan’s total investment in India, the lion’s share is invested in West Bengal,” the chief minister told business leaders at a CII conference here.

The Left has been locked in a standoff with the Centre over finance minister P. Chidambaram’s budget proposal to raise the foreign direct investment limit in insurance, telecom and aviation but Bhattacharjee indicated that a solution was in sight.

“We have certain differences on the FDI question, but I assure you that we will clinch it very soon,” he said.

The gist of what Bhattacharjee told the business leaders does not differ radically from the stated policies of the Left. But the timing and the unequivocal nature of the assertion reflected his willingness to accept the responsibility and compulsions that come with governance and an indication that the Left could be flexible on economic reforms so long as they do not go against its core ideological commitments.

Hardselling Bengal and the Left as investor-friendly, Bhattacharjee confessed that mistakes had been made in the past. “The word ‘gherao’ is our contribution to the Oxford dictionary,” he said with a smile.

As the state resigns itself to yet another bandh — called by rival Mamata Banerjee — on Monday, the chief minister admitted: “Bandh is a serious state problem. We are trying to give constant messages to our workers that there is no need to encourage strikes. Earlier, of course, we had made some mistakes.”

Carrying on in the confession mode, he added: “We must admit that in the 1970s, we encouraged these kinds of irresponsible acts…. Today we are trying to perform and I think our motto is ‘perform or perish’.”

Bhattacharjee pointed out that Japanese firms Mitsubishi and Marubeni and global IT companies IBM and Cognizant were among the names Bengal counted as its success stories. Construction giants from Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia had also invested in the state.

“IBM is taking a lot of interest in the state. The Chinese have come to Calcutta in the power sector. There is also an Indonesian-Chinese joint venture which is due to start manufacturing two-wheelers. The Italians are coming to the state in a big way in the leather industry. We are open to all of them and trying to attract more,” he said.

A 70-member Chinese delegation led by CII will visit Calcutta early next month. This will be the biggest-ever investor delegation visiting the state.

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