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US kudos & caution for CM

Calcutta, Aug. 18: In the past, a “hostile” government in Delhi stifled Bengal’s development, or so the CPM of Jyoti Basu’s time used to complain.

Now other people are complaining that the CPM in Delhi may be throttling the growth of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee-ruled Bengal.

Take US ambassador David Mulford, for instance. He warned the chief minister today that the two CPM voices ' one from Delhi and the other from Calcutta and seen to be conflicting by the outside world ' would impede the flow of foreign investment to Bengal.

On his first visit to the city after he took over, Mulford met Bhattacharjee at Writers’ Buildings, spending almost an hour there.

Speaking on the sidelines of a meeting at a chamber of commerce, Mulford said: “People sitting in Boston or Chicago read what is being said in Delhi and they get confused. They are unaware of the ground reality here.”

What did the chief minister say in reply' He did not give a direct response, but offered an explanation. “Bengal is changing in tune with the changing realities,” sources privy to the discussions at the meeting said, quoting Bhattacharjee.

“We have to be practical, liberal, because our people want us to acknowledge the ground realities and shape our responses accordingly. We have to walk the path after taking note of their expectations,” the chief minister is believed to have told Mulford.

The envoy noted the investor-friendly attitude of the Bengal government, but cautioned that the benefits could be spoilt by the Left agenda in Delhi where the CPM is opposing many reform measures, including public sector divestment.

The CPM’s critics point out, rightly or wrongly, that while the party is opposing divestment, in Bengal its government is closing down or selling state-owned undertakings.

The ambassador said he did not raise this issue with the chief minister, but replying to a question from the audience in the chamber meeting, he expressed his belief that divestment would ultimately take place.

“I recognise that it is a delicate political issue,” he said, adding that in the long run it was essential to move ahead with privatisation as it would yield major economic benefits.

Mulford advocated opening up sectors like retail, real estate, food processing, small-scale industry and telecommunications.

But the CPM in Delhi is opposed to foreign investment in retail. It also insists on continuing government protection for the small-scale sector.

He praised the Bengal government. “The leadership has been able to introduce a new dynamism in the business and economic environment. It is seeking investment from other states and abroad.”

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