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Oh, Mr Mitra, what a miss!

- Silence denies diagnosis chance

Calcutta, Aug. 26: Cyrus Mistry had just been asked whether he would be a little more aggressive, why he did not smile more often and what he thought of investing in Bengal.

The Tata Group chairman chose wisely — and possibly denied Amit Mitra a fresh chance to flaunt his recently revealed diagnostic skills.

“Mr Ghatani, I will smile,” Mistry told a shareholder of Tata Global Beverages (formerly Tata Tea) at the company’s annual general meeting in Calcutta. Mistry then did what he promised, sparking laughter and a roar of approval from the audience.

When his turn had come for asking questions, Ghatani had told the gentle Mistry: “There is a major difference that I find between Mr Ratan Tata and you. I want you to be a bit more aggressive, sir. I have read about you. You are an avid golfer. You read books. But no one has said you are aggressive, sir. You are very down to earth.”

Ghatani, whose first name could not be confirmed by this newspaper, added: “I want to see a broader smile on your face. A smile doesn’t cost you anything. You are already smart and handsome. But a smile will add to your face value, sir.”

After referring to a certain other matter, Ghatani asked: “What do you think of investing in Bengal, sir?”

Such a question should be easy to field in many places of the world. But in a state whose finance minister had diagnosed Ratan Tata with “motibhrom (loss of mind)” three weeks ago, silence is often golden — and eloquent.

Mistry did not refer to the particular question at all when it was time to give the replies.

In fact, the soft-spoken Mistry, who patiently replied to several questions, skipped all the three specific queries that dealt with investment plans in Bengal.

Ramjilal Chowdhury, another shareholder, had said: “Ratan Tata ne ek Rs 200 crore ka hospital diya Calcutta ko…. Calcutta ko kuch de ke jayenge, yeh hamari request hai (Ratan Tata gave this city a Rs 200-crore hospital; we request you also to announce a similar investment).”

Krishnendu Das, a shareholder, had asked: “A small question on a regional matter… about Bengal. Is our company (Tata Global Beverages) planning any further investment in Bengal or in Darjeeling tea?”

After his opening remarks, Mistry had called out one by one the shareholders who wanted to speak or ask questions. After the shareholders spoke, Mistry had responded.

He addressed each shareholder by name and replied to their questions or observations individually, skipping the three questions related to investments in Bengal.

So, Ghatani’s wish to see Mistry smile was fulfilled but his question on investing in Bengal remained unanswered.

Not that a corporate chief has to commit investments in states where annual general meetings are held. But Mistry’s silence today was in contrast to his reaction last year when similar questions were raised at the shareholders’ meeting.

At that time, the chairman of the country’s only $100-billion conglomerate had said: “I would like to say that the Tatas never left West Bengal and we will never leave West Bengal.” That was Mistry’s first visit to the city after assuming the chairmanship of the group from Ratan Tata who had stepped down in December 2012.

Between 2012 and now, the Bengal industrial landscape has not changed much — unlike its finance minister who has undergone such a transformation that he finds himself qualified enough to comment on the state of mind of visitors to the state.

Ratan Tata had come to Calcutta earlier this month and said he could not find evidence of too much industrialisation while driving down Rajarhat, prompting minister Mitra to claim that the industrialist had lost his mind.

Having returned from a “highly successful” tour of Singapore, Mitra is unlikely to read too much into the silence of Mistry. Or, Mitra could be leafing through his well-thumbed copy of An Outline of Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud.

Watch this space for the final diagnosis.


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