|Jaitley speaks at the BJP meeting in Calcutta on Sunday. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
Calcutta, Aug. 24: Credit must surely go to either Singapore or Arun Jaitley or to both.
Amit Mitra has been cured — at least temporarily — of an urge to certify the mental state of visitors to Bengal who need not echo the views of Mamata Banerjee.
Jaitley, the Union finance minister, today wondered aloud at a BJP meeting why the Bengal chief minister went to Singapore if her party was opposed to foreign funds.
A political swipe at a political event — Jaitley did not make any statement against the government at other programmes in the state in which he participated as a minister — is par for the course but what stood out was the nature of Mitra’s response.
Mitra, who created waves earlier this month by diagnosing Ratan Tata with “motibhrom (loss of mind)” for failing to spot signs of industrial resurgence in Bengal on a car ride through Rajarhat, desisted from offering free medical advice to Jaitley.
Mitra did not exactly answer Jaitley’s mischievous question but issued a five-point rebuttal that — surprise, surprise — had phrases like “extremely sad”, “doing politics” and “West Bengal did not expect this from him”. (See chart)
There was no reference to “motibhrom”. Neither was there any mention of Jaitley’s hobbies unlike in the case of Tata who was advised by Mitra to keep flying planes.
What led “Dr Mitra” to drop the stethoscope for the time being and return to a sterile media release is not clear. In the absence of full disclosure, Singapore, where Mitra spent the better part of last week, and Jaitley, the visitor who escaped Mitra’s medical attention, can claim the credit.
Jaitley had referred to the chief minister’s Singapore trip at a meeting organised by the BJP in east Calcutta for “intellectuals”. The participants included BJP MP Babul Supriyo, actor George Baker, magician P.C. Sorcar Jr, columnist Swapan Dasgupta and spokesperson M.J. Akbar.
Speaking in Hindi, Jaitley claimed some Trinamul MPs had told him in response to a question that “hamari neeti hai hamein videshi paisa nahin chahiye (we are ideologically opposed to foreign funds)”.
“To fir Singapore kyun gaye videshi paisa lene? (Then why go to Singapore to get foreign funds?)” Jaitley asked, prompting the response from Mitra a few hours later.
The Bengal finance minister did not give any specific reply to the Trinamul stand on foreign investment.
Going by Trinamul statements, the party appears to be sector-specific while taking a stand on foreign direct investment — something the BJP also does.
If Trinamul opposed FDI in multi-brand retail, so did the BJP although Narendra Modi has managed to create an impression that he has not yet taken a cut-and-dried stand on the issue.
According to Trinamul MP Saugata Roy, his party opposes FDI in retail, insurance and defence. “But the party does not oppose FDI in certain sectors like manufacturing, IT and power,” he added.
The problem for Mamata is that the BJP has managed to project itself as an industry-friendly party in spite of such nebulous positions, piggy-backing on the inherent strengths of the Gujarat economy that Modi has showcased as his trophy.
Mamata has no such achievement to flaunt, which leaves her vulnerable to economic advice from visitors that may sound condescending.
Mitra may have been compelled to react because the BJP has been persistently describing the chief minister’s visit to Singapore as a “pleasure trip” and worse. BJP sources said tonight that they would make it an issue in the run-up to the Assembly by-elections slated for September 13.
During his 40-minute speech, Jaitley referred to the BJP’s prospects in the state. “The basic question before us today is where the BJP stands vis-ŗ-vis Bengal. Earlier, no seats were possible. But now we see that there are several seats where we can win by one lakh votes,” he said.
Jaitley drew a parallel with Uttar Pradesh and made it clear that the party’s immediate goal was to snatch the Left’s space as the principal opposition in Bengal.
Jaitley said: “In the next Assembly elections, the BJP has the biggest opportunity to leave behind the Left, garner all their votes and increase our vote share. Often, we ourselves do not realise how powerful we are going to become. Did anyone among us even imagine that we would win 73 seats in Uttar Pradesh?”