The chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, wants to turn Calcutta into another London, but her first visit abroad as chief minister was to Singapore. The ostensible purpose of this trip to the city-state was to attract investment to a state that is in dire need of capital, especially in manufacturing. Given this aim, the choice of Singapore will inevitably raise a few eyebrows, since that thriving metropolis is not known as a centre of manufacturing. On the contrary, it is a city of investment bankers, of people who manage other people’s money, and sometimes that money is in need of some dry cleaning. If Ms Banerjee was interested in persuading these bankers to bring money into the state she lords over, there is no evidence that she spent a lot of time with them. Moreover, there is nothing in the prevailing climate of West Bengal that would inspire confidence among merchant bankers to send forth monies here. There is nothing in West Bengal to inspire faith, which is at the heart of any investment decision. Reports suggest that Ms Banerjee spent a considerable part of her time in Singapore entertaining sections of the Indian community. Song and dance and hard-nosed economic decisions involving millions of Singapore dollars are not compatible. The preponderance of entertainment during Ms Banerjee’s visit is an indicator of the level of the visit.
This confusion between the the visit’s ostensible purpose and what actually happened is not unrelated to the attitude that Ms Banerjee and her party, Trinamul Congress, have to foreign investment. It has been evident that the TMC has opposed every policy aimed at opening India up to foreign investment. Like the party she hated and defeated, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Ms Banerjee sees foreign investment in India as being harmful and evil. Yet, this did not stop her from travelling to Singapore to woo investors. The latter, prone as investors are to do their home work, cannot possibly be unaware of Ms Banerjee’s hostility to foreign capital. Arun Jaitley, the Union finance and defence minister, was right in pointing out this apparent contradiction. He might have been making a political point, but that does not invalidate his statement. Another chief minister of West Bengal, Jyoti Basu, and his cup-bearer, Somnath Chatterjee, also travelled abroad, including to Singapore, in search of investment, carrying with them the baggage of the same contradiction. The trips yielded nothing for West Bengal in terms of investment. Ms Banerjee is merely repeating history, this time as entertainment, may be not yet as farce.