Calcutta, May 6: Bengal’s most powerful person, known for her extempore speeches and ability to reel off statistics, has asked officials to prepare a set of facts and figures that she may rely on during her meeting with the most powerful woman in the world.
When Mamata Banerjee sits for her maiden meeting with US secretary of state Hillary Clinton at the conference room adjacent to the chief minister’s chamber tomorrow morning, she will have a dossier with all the details of the achievements of her fledgling government.
“The chief minister wants to highlight what the new government has done in Bengal after coming to power,” said a senior state official.
As the meeting does not have any agenda, the two leaders are likely to have a freewheeling chat when they meet at the state secretariat around 11am tomorrow. The time, however, may change at the last minute, said a home department official.
Although the chief minister was away in Delhi for the past few days and had returned to Calcutta only last evening, the officials at her office had been busy collating facts and figures that she might need during the meeting with Clinton.
The meeting assumes significance for Mamata at a time she is facing criticism for her government’s hands-off land policy and her party’s opposition to reform measures. The Centre’s attempt to seal a pact with Bangladesh on sharing Teesta waters had also hit a hurdle following Mamata’s reservations.
The chief minister is aware that the US establishment is keen on reforms like FDI in retail to help retail giants like Wal-Mart and Tesco and that businesses want easy access to land to set up industry. As cordial India-Bangladesh relations are key to the US strategy of promoting greater co-operation in South Asia, it is in the interest of America that the neighbours reach a consensus on sharing Teesta waters.
Clinton is unlikely to directly broach all these contentious issues, which are essentially domestic in nature, during her meeting with Mamata.
The Bengal chief minister, however, will have to win over the US establishment — in this case, Clinton — by assuaging some of these concerns, if she is keen on wooing US investments. “So, the best bet for her will be to highlight what she has achieved in Bengal,” said an officer.
As big-ticket investments have eluded Bengal since the change of guard at Writers’, Mamata has little to showcase on the industrial front.
So, it is likely that she will focus on her government’s efforts in the social sector through plans to increase spending on health care, education and other development programmes.
Some officials said the dossier for Mamata, which has been handed over to the chief secretary, has data on several human development indices, ranging from dropout rates in schools to the impact of arsenic contamination in the state.
“The chief minister may ask for US help in her attempt to provide arsenic-free drinking water and proper immunisation for mothers and children in Bengal,” said an official.
Recent estimates suggest that nearly 50 million people living in nine districts in Bengal are exposed to the dangers of arsenic in drinking water. The state also lacks a proper institutional child and mother care mechanism and Mamata has promised to address the problem.
“If the chief minister is able to convince the visiting dignitary about her efforts to improve the lives of people in Bengal and can extract Clinton’s assurance of help, it will do good for her image,” said a city-based industrialist.
The industrialist — who has business relations with the US — added that the American establishment has been bullish on Bengal since Mamata came to power by routing the communists.
“Her stand on some policy issues may have partially eroded their confidence but still, many of them think that she may change her stand in the future,” he added.
According to a close aide, Mamata is aware that the US establishment wants to engage with her as it prefers her to the Left parties.
“The chief minister will surely pitch for US investments in Bengal and try to convince Clinton that land will not be a hassle for potential US investors as the state government is creating a land bank,” said the official.
Some of Mamata’s cabinet colleagues — industries minister Partha Chatterjee, panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee and finance minister Amit Mitra — are likely to join her during the meeting at the conference room.
“As the US side is yet to tell us how many people will accompany the visiting dignitary to the meeting, the chief minister has not decided on who all will be with her during the interaction. She has asked some of her senior cabinet colleagues to be present at Writers’ in the morning, but the final decision will be taken only minutes before the meeting,” said an official.
Writers’ sources said the US side, besides Clinton, is likely to comprise US ambassador to India Nancy Powell, US consul-general Dean R. Thompson and some state department officials from Washington.