The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi tilt against Bengal lingers

Calcutta, Dec. 9: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee might have said yesterday that he was getting full support from Delhi, but that is only partially correct.

At least two instances have come to light where a very senior member of the Manmohan Singh cabinet discouraged foreign investors from going to Calcutta while an Indian ambassador gave a repeat performance.

The fact that Indian diplomatic missions at times play a negative role in relation to Calcutta came out in the open at Infocom 2005.

Surya Kumar Bose of Bose Information Technology said at the interaction with the chief minister: “We know that the Centre and the diplomatic missions try to divert visiting business delegations from Calcutta.”

Bhattacharjee tried to defuse the bomb. “Things are not that bad. It was Manmohan Singh who sent the Wal-Mart delegation to me. The Metro (Cash and Carry) group was sent by industry minister Kamal Nath. The Prime Minister, industry minister and finance minister are all helping me.”

It is true that conditions are far different from what they used to be under previous Congress regimes, but not entirely so.

“At a meeting with members of the German India roundtable in Frankfurt last year, the Union minister was asked about business prospects in the food sector in India. ‘Why Calcutta' Go to Pune for better prospects,’ he told them,” recounted an investor.

The minister has had a number of run-ins with the Left, which is running the government in Bengal.

“The external affairs ministry as well as the industry ministry has in the past tried its best to divert attention from Bengal,” said an NRI investor at Infocom.

The minister at the Frankfurt roundtable was, however, not the external affairs or industry minister.

An investor based in Germany related how an Indian ambassador there had reacted when two delegations were planning to visit Bengal to scout for food and IT prospects last year.

“The then Indian ambassador to Germany tried to convince the food delegation to go to Chennai instead of Calcutta. The food delegation did come to India, but it didn’t come to Calcutta,” he said.

The ambassador in question belonged to Tamil Nadu.

Wilfried Prewo, chief executive of the Hannover Chamber of Industry and Commerce, however, said Calcutta is beginning to get on the radar of investors as perceptions are changing.

“Investors knew that to talk politics, you went to Delhi, for business to Mumbai, and for IT to Hyderabad and Bangalore. It is only when one reaches here that they realise the enormous business potential,” he said.

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