|Chatterjee: ‘Wait till 15th’
Calcutta, Jan. 13: Chief minister Mamata Banerjee will inaugurate Bengal Leads 2013, a three-day investment summit and exhibition, in Haldia on Tuesday afternoon.
If the chief minister picks up from where she left off at the last edition — “enough of talking, now it’s time to act” — few are expected to spoil the mood by asking what action had been taken in the intervening months to improve the business environment in Bengal.
However, a coincidence has ensured that comparisons will be drawn willy-nilly with another M and another spectacle that got over yesterday. The Vibrant Gujarat show mounted by Narendra Modi is certain to be the elephant in the Haldia hall — the unspoken benchmark against which the Bengal programme will be judged.
The comparison is somewhat odious because Modi has been in power for an uninterrupted 12 years — against Mamata’s less than two years. More important, Modi has had a solid foundation to build on and several other inherent as well as inherited advantages — the entrepreneurial spirit of the people and infrastructure — to tap.
However, conversations with officials in Gujarat a day after the Vibrant event and statements by industries minister Partha Chatterjee two days before the Haldia summit suggest Bengal could have easily replicated some of the leadership initiatives the western state took. A compilation follows:
Modi made a modest beginning with Vibrant Gujarat in 2003 but he kept trying to scale it up to the most talked-about industry conclave in the country.
“The success of the show goes to our chief minister, who had the vision to take it to this level. He has always taken a personal interest in bringing investments to Gujarat and everyone in the cabinet and the bureaucracy knows what he wants,” Saurabh Patel, the Gujarat minister in charge of energy, petrochemicals and mining, told The Telegraph.
A senior official in Gandhinagar cited an example to illustrate the depth of the chief minister’s involvement.
Modi took care to personally invite the who’s who of India Inc, including the Ambani brothers and Ratan Tata and Cyrus Mistry, according to the official. Another source said that on the day of the election verdict, Modi did not rest on his laurels but struck the iron at its hottest by calling up potential guests based outside the state.
Officials in the Bengal government couldn’t — or wouldn’t — give a single instance of the chief minister’s personal initiative to make Bengal Leads 2013 a success, barring a couple of preparatory meetings with officials and representatives of chambers of commerce.
The invitation letters did not go from her. “Our chief secretary sent the letters,” industries minister Partha Chatterjee told a news conference today in the run-up to the event.
An official could not resist suggesting in private that had Mamata approached the investor summit with the gusto she shows for film festival inaugurations, Bengal Leads would also have gained.
Minister Chatterjee said the second edition of Bengal Leads would be bigger, both in “scale and scope”, than the first one, which the new government had to organise in a hurry.
“We didn’t have enough time to prepare this year as well,” said Chatterjee, holding the possibility of panchayat election ahead of its May 2013 schedule responsible for lack of time.
Contrast this with Gujarat. Preparations for 2013 had begun just after the 2011 edition. Soon after the valedictory programme of Vibrant Gujarat 2011, Modi had said that he wanted the next edition of the show to focus on knowledge economy.
The same zeal was shown yesterday, too, when Vibrant 2013 concluded. Modi held a review meeting as the curtains came down and listed the tasks for 2015 when the biennial event will be held next.
In Bengal, sources in the industry department said, the planning for this year’s programme started only after the chief minister announced in early October that the show would be held in Haldia. Political expediency appeared to have driven the decision as the government was looking to cap the controversy over the pullout of HBT, a private cargo handler.
“The venue is the biggest drawback…. Leave alone representatives from beyond Bengal, even people from Calcutta will go there only for the inaugural session to register their presence in front of the chief minister,” said the head of a leading chamber.
Minister Chatterjee stressed that the government was satisfied with the initial response to Bengal Leads 2013 as all the 67 stalls at the exhibition venue had been booked and “500 to 600 representatives from various companies” were expected at the inaugural session.
In response to queries on whether big names — like Mistry or the Ambani brothers — were among the list of confirmed guests, the industries minister said: “Wait till 15th afternoon.”
“I can tell you that professionals who run various big companies will turn up,” he added, before questioning the media’s “obsession” with big names.
The list of guests was not a state secret in Gujarat. Most of the participants had confirmed well in advance.
The media focuses on big industrial projects because they act as engines of growth and also send positive signals about a state’s attractiveness as an investment destination.
“In the last two decades, we didn’t have anything to talk about other than HPL (Haldia Petrochemicals). The other proposed big project, the Tata Motors plant, was aborted…. If the government is serious about industry, it must try for at least one or two big projects,” said a Calcutta-based businessman.
If the programme of events was uploaded on the Vibrant Gujarat website months before the show, Chatterjee today read out the first draft of the proposed programme while adding that there may be last-minute changes.
“Most of the sessions will be chaired by secretaries of various government departments. If this is an industry conclave, there should have been experts from the industry,” said a city-based industrialist.
A senior Gujarat official explained how the government there went about organising the programme.
“Delegations from the state visited at least 34 countries and these delegations had maximum one or two government officers and the rest were from the industry. We made the industry a partner in the preparations,” the officer said.
The partnership in Bengal, however, was restricted to outsourcing the responsibility of holding different sessions to various chambers of commerce.
“The partnership here is not with industry but more with a select few businessmen. Besides, the chief minister hardly listens to us…. Unless these anomalies are addressed, things won’t change in Bengal,” said a chamber representative.
Delegates from 121 countries participated in the Gujarat summit that yielded 17,719 project proposals capable of creating 3.73 lakh jobs. Such promises on paper do not always translate into actual projects on the ground but they do offer a starting point for the state government to pursue.
The Bengal government can also be expected to come up with impressive figures — something for which it does not need any lessons from Gujarat.
The Mamata government has claimed that investment proposals worth over Rs 1 lakh crore have reached the government since the change of guard at Writers’. The new government has apparently also created 6 lakh jobs — 2 lakh in government and 4 lakh in the private sector.
But do not ask for inconvenient details such as the break-up of investment proposals from the private sector. That’s a state secret.
Some industrialists are looking forward to candour from the chief minister, whose inimitable style draws big applause at such events.
“If you ask me, I don’t have any expectation from the event. But I am going to Haldia as I really want to know what makes this government so confident,” said a prominent member of a city-based chamber of commerce.