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CM seeks foreign direct investment

- Mamata theme in Singapore: Come to Bengal, ride the growth

Singapore, Aug. 20: Mamata Banerjee today launched in Singapore an initiative to woo foreign direct investment with the clarion call “come to Bengal, ride the growth”.

She started her address by describing an investor meeting — her first event abroad as chief minister — as “historic”.

“Your presence has made our visit a success…. You please come and invest in Bengal. Please don’t forget us. I will be very happy to be your small sister,” Mamata said, drawing a huge round of applause.

With elections to 81 civic bodies, including the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, coming up next year, followed by the Assembly polls in 2016, Mamata is trying to focus on attracting investments to Bengal.

“The choice of Singapore is a good decision but the question is whether Singaporeans will invest in Bengal,” said Amitendu Palit, a senior research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies, a Singapore government-backed think-tank.

Sources in the Bengal government said the chief minister was so keen to show results that she gave almost a carte blanche to her team to make her five-day trip a success. From putting full-page advertisements in newspapers to bringing in a large contingent of business representatives from the state, the Bengal industries and commerce department left no stone unturned.

Such meetings do not translate into immediate results as investment decisions depend on an entire gamut of factors. But the success of the meetings can be gauged from the attendance of key people and the interest among the audience in exploring opportunities in the state after the programmes.

The organisers today rolled out a list of memoranda of understanding (MoUs) and letters of intent exchanged between companies from Bengal and those in Singapore. When Somnath Chatterjee was the chairman of the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation, he had earned the moniker Mou-da for the spate of agreements signed during the Jyoti Basu regime.

Today, Bengal government officials also released the names of Singaporeans among the audience to suggest that the meeting was successful in stoking interest in Bengal. Gautam Banerjee, the chairman of the investment and advisory firm Blackstone Singapore and a member of the International Advisory Board, was present at the meeting.

But the discussions after the meeting revolved around two features: a sleek short film on Bengal and the candour of the chief minister.

“I am floored by her speech,” said a Singapore-based Indian professional who heard Mamata for the first time.

Several others were overheard discussing the same point as they gathered for lunch outside the Ball Room of Shangri-La Hotel, the venue of the investor meet.

On her part, Mamata tried to stick to the prepared speech — though she deviated from it occasionally — and highlight the advantages of investing in Bengal. There was no question-answer session, which came as a surprise to many.

The state government was bullish that today’s programme would help attract investments to the state. Bengal chief secretary Sanjay Mitra read out a list of participants, which included names of representatives from top-notch Singaporean companies and MNCs operating from Singapore.

“It is true that there were representatives from various companies…. But I did not find the top management of government-backed or private entities,” said a Singapore-based NRI businessman.

The Singapore government has recently expressed its willingness to join hands with India to develop 100 smart cities, a pet project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. With expertise in urban planning, water resource management and waste disposal, and various technology-related ventures, Singaporean companies are also looking at India with great interest.

“But Singaporeans are much more comfortable in dealing with the southern part of India…. The west coast is also preferred,” said Palit, the senior research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies.

Some businessmen expressed their liking for Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, who has been a regular visitor to the island city state.

“One has to understand that Bengal has to compete with other states to get investments from Singapore. For that, something different has to be done. The chief minister’s speech was candid but candour alone cannot win you investment,” said a Bengal-based businessman who was part of the delegation that accompanied Mamata.