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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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CITY SLICKERS

Three years ago, the finance minister appointed a mouthful — the High-Powered Committee on Making Mumbai an International Financial Centre. It appointed as its chairman Mr Percy Mistry, who lives in London and runs a financial consultancy. The committee’s confabulations must have been heated, for Mr Mistry has not signed its report. It may not be strong enough for him, but it is scathing on the state of India’s financial administration. Financial markets involve competition between nations; money flows to countries that govern the markets with the lightest touch. India has miles to go before its over-cautious, overbearing financial regulators can come close to international standards. Compared to what the committee has to say about government, it has devoted little thought to Mumbai. It has not even touched on the billions in brand value the Maharashtra government destroyed by renaming the city. The Bengal government was less profligate when it renamed Calcutta, for its 30 years of rule had already depreciated Calcutta’s brand value considerably; it was just one step down the road to international oblivion.

But reading the report, it is possible to get the impression that Mumbai is incidental — that the advantages of Anglophonicity, accountancy, information technology, financial expertise, and so on, that the committee advances belong almost as much to India as to Mumbai. In fact, Mumbai’s stock has gone down so much under the succession of lacklustre governments that followed the Shiv Sena’s stint in the Nineties that Chennai or Bangalore has better, relevant resources for becoming India’s financial capital than Mumbai.

That prompts the thought: why not Calcutta' The thought may be blasphemy for West Bengal’s rulers; after all, how could they team up with global capitalism' But they have fallen so far from their once high standards that the rest of the fall need not frighten them. After all, they are already dancing with India’s biggest capitalist, Mr Ratan Tata; they have even shed Bengali blood for his factory — even though it belonged to the enemies of the people. They are flirting with Mr Anthony Salim, an Indonesian capitalist of Chinese descent living in Singapore. From Salim to Rothschild is an easy climb. West Bengal cannot get financial capital without being host to very rich men. They will not come unless the state organizes suitable housing, roads, clubs and entertainment for them. While an occasional visit of a tycoon to Writers’ Buildings may go unnoticed, the red cadre might smell blood if the filthy rich made West Bengal their playground. But a solution can surely be found in obfuscation. The government’s own housing corporation has, in partnerships, constructed many luxury apartments; it calls them middle-income-group apartments. All it has to do is to sponsor condominiums, clubs and lakes for the really rich, and call them Wretched Hovels. Bengalis would not mind their state being called a communist hell if it had all the modern conveniences of a paradise.

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