The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Buddha seeks to put state on Ambani’s map

Mumbai, Aug. 22: Ratan Tata preferred to listen, probably because he had some moments to chat with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee before the Mumbai roadshow began.

Mukesh Ambani, however, was a first-timer.

“I haven’t met you before because your system works,” he told Bhattacharjee at ‘Doing Business in Bengal’, an event organised by ABP Ltd, in what was his first meeting with the Bengal chief minister.

Bhattacharjee then gently reminded the elder Ambani that his brother Anil had met him recently. The head of the Rs 99,000-crore Reliance group agreed but said it was in connection with power projects, a sector handled by his brother.

Ambani, whose Reliance Infocomm has major investments in the state, said he had never encountered any problem with the Left. “Our communists will put the Chinese communists to shame (in its pragmatic approach towards industrialisation),” he said.

In a clear attempt to court the country’s largest private sector conglomerate, Bhattacharjee told Ambani: “I still feel that Bengal is not on your (Reliance’s) map.”

The chief minister reminded Ambani of his meeting with state finance minister Asim Dasgupta where he had expressed his interest to set up a technical institute in Bengal in memory of his father, the late Dhirubhai Ambani.

Ambani came to the roadshow with his cousin Nikhil Meswani.

Ratan Tata, the head of the Rs 57,000-crore Tata group, was accompanied by R. Gopalakrishnan, a Tata Sons board member, and Firdose A. Vandrewala, the managing director of Tata Power.

Uday Kotak, who has plans to increase the presence of Kotak Mahindra Bank from a single branch set up to a few more in Bengal, said: “He (the chief minister) is a statesman. But the East does not mean Calcutta alone. His plans should also involve other backward areas in the state.”

Niall S.K. Booker, CEO of HSBC India — the third largest foreign bank in India — was more forthright. “The biggest opposition to the foreign bank setting up back office operations in Calcutta (which will eventually employ 500 people) came from the Indians while the foreign principals had no reservations,” he said.

Bhattacharjee recalled that Azim Premji, the chairman of Wipro, the country’s third-largest infotech company, had told him recently that “about 50 per cent of our professionals hail from your state”.

The chief minister said infotech and biotech were the two big focus areas for investment which faced no trade union-related problems, unlike the smoke-stack companies.

“It’s a breath of fresh air,” said HDFC chairman Deepak Parekh. “I told the chief minister that the state has to keep the infrastructure ready. When foreign investors come calling, they’ll ask for the buildings to put up their call centres.”

Bimal Jalan, Rajya Sabha member and former governor of the Reserve Bank, flagged off the interactive session.

Aniruddha Lahiri, the managing director of ABP Ltd, made a presentation that revealed the dramatic change Bengal had made during the last two years. The state showed an 81 per cent increase in four-wheeler ownership, a staggering 536 per cent jump in mobile connections and a 493 per cent leap in personal computer sales.

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