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Gujarat ghost haunts Bengal Leads

Haldia, Jan. 15: Mamata Banerjee today took care to explain why Bengal lagged behind Narendra Modi’s Gujarat, the unusual justification capturing her exasperation with comparisons to Vibrant Gujarat 2013.

The industry conclave in Gandhinagar, which ended last week, saw the whole of India Inc standing by Modi and promising investments in the state.

Instead of making any attempt to scale up Bengal Leads 2013 to the level achieved by the Gujarat government show, she stuck to the familiar theme of attacking the Left. “We are facing the legacy of 35 years of one-party rule,” Mamata said.

The stress on Gujarat at a Bengal government programme organised with the objective of attracting investments unwittingly set the stage for highlighting the strengths of the western state.

From comparing population densities in the two states to explaining Gujarat’s geographical advantage — “there are 17 ports in Gujarat while we have only two” — over Bengal, the chief minister reeled off several factors to explain Gujarat’s advantages.

The chief minister was right, as Census 2011 revealed that while Bengal has a population density of 1,029 per sqkm, the corresponding figure for Gujarat is 308.

“At a time different states are competing for investments, she was almost explaining why Gujarat is a better investment destination than Bengal,” a senior government official said.

“I don’t know what purpose the comparison served,” he added.

As Bengal Leads 2013 is being held just two days after the summit in Gujarat, The Telegraph on January 14 highlighted how the Bengal government could take some lessons in expanding the scale and scope of its show.

But the way Mamata today tried to explain Gujarat’s inherent advantages over Bengal, it emerged that she was more interested in holding the Left rule responsible for Bengal’s ills than learning from the success of the Gandhinagar show.

“They have no political obstructions…. They do politics only at the time of elections,” said Mamata, praising the political culture of Gujarat, where her sworn political enemies — the BJP and the Congress — battle for power.

Her statements made it clear that she was holding the Opposition in Bengal — both the Left and the Congress — responsible for politics of confrontation in the state.

CPM central committee member Gautam Deb, however, had blamed Mamata for this at a party rally yesterday in Rajarhat. He gave the example of how she had stormed out of a meeting convened at Nandan, which Deb had organised with the then chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to settle the Singur impasse.

The failure to resolve the Singur issue forced Tata Motors to move its small-car plant to Sanand in Gujarat.

“We are willing to co-operate with the government if she wants our support,” Deb had said yesterday.

Today, Mamata had an opportunity to respond to the call by making a statement on how she wanted to change the atmosphere, but she didn’t.

During Vibrant Gujarat, both Ratan Tata and his successor Cyrus Mistry, the chairperson of Tata Sons, iterated the group’s commitment to invest more in the western state. Mistry did not turn up at Leads, despite an invitation from the Bengal government.

Although Trinamul MP Derek ’Brien contended in his blog yesterday that the impact of an industry meet could not be assessed by the number of “billionaires flying in and out in their private jets”, Mamata today tried to justify why Haldia could not emulate Gandhinagar.

“They (Gujarat) don’t have a debt burden like us…. My hands are empty…. Where will I get the money for food, roads and concessions for industry?” she asked.

While it is true that the Left government did not leave the state economy in sound health, Mamata has till now done little to improve the state’s revenue collection as she has steered clear of raising taxes.

The other path of revenue augmentation through increasing industrial activity has also been absent as the new government has failed to attract big-ticket investments.

Instead of rolling out the red carpet for industry through declaring new policy or announcing concessions, Mamata focused on Gujarat’s advantages.

“It seems any reference to Gujarat touches a raw nerve in her as the Nano plant was shifted to Sanand,” a Trinamul insider said.