Signs can be taken for wonder. They can also be seen as milestones of despair. The announcement that the Partnership Summit (jointly hosted by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Union commerce ministry) is being shifted from Calcutta to Agra is not altogether surprising but it can only be read as a sign of how industrialists and bodies in which they are represented are viewing Calcutta and West Bengal. There is no other way of reading this decision. West Bengal is being kept at arm’s length because it does not present a very encouraging prospect for industry and investment. The reasons for this are twofold: one located in the immediate, and the other in history of recent vintage. The present government led by Mamata Banerjee has taken no steps to encourage capital to put its faith in the state of West Bengal. On the contrary, she and her government have been consistently against economic reforms and she has campaigned to stop agricultural land from being transferred to industry. These features of Ms Banerjee’s political programme and agitation have come in the wake of the Left Front’s consistent hostility to capital and capitalists. When the Left finally discovered the benefits of industrial investment, it was perhaps too late. The electoral bell had begun by then to toll for the comrades.
Ms Banerjee’s one aim is to secure votes. She is anxious not to take any steps which could disturb her vote bank. In her scheme of things, industrialization of West Bengal is not a priority even if this neglect leads to the ruin of the state. Capital, on the other hand, seeks profit and goes where it thinks facilities exist to make profits. Ms Banerjee, even before she became chief minister, made it apparent that she was not inclined to make West Bengal investor friendly. In spite of this, there was hope because her winning slogan was paribartan or change. The first signs that this hope is evaporating are already becoming manifest. West Bengal is no longer the favoured destination of industrialists — not even for a summit, let alone investments. The Central government, from which Ms Banerjee has departed in a huff, is unlikely to be forthcoming with funds and facilities for West Bengal. Under Left rule, the state had to wait for more than a quarter of a century for the comrades to discover the virtues of industrial investment. Under the rule of the elder sister, the wait could be longer, the price weightier.