The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Buddha, business bleed for Iraq

Calcutta, April 9: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee came to reposition the east — read Bengal — and ended up repositioning the Confederation of Indian Industry.

And earned applause from a gathering of businessmen who are CII members.

At the annual session of the CII (eastern region) — the chief minister spoke his customary piece on why investors should rush to his vibrant Bengal reading from prepared text, and then put it aside to open his heart on the Iraq war.

“Our Parliament has passed a resolution which calls for an immediate halt to the military action on Iraq. It is now clear to the entire world that America’s motive behind the war is to get hold of the oilfields. What is happening in Iraq is barbaric and we strongly condemn it,” he said, dripping emotion.

If British deputy high commissioner Andrew Hall and US consul-general George N. Sibley were astonished, further amazement awaited them.

Clap, clap, clap, the assembled businessmen enthusiastically gave the chief minister a big hand. “Shame, shame,” cried Ramesh Maheswari, chief executive of Texmaco, not at Bhattacharjee for raising a political issue at a business meeting, but at George W. Bush for invading Iraq.

Later, he was asked if his outburst clashed with the government’s declared vow to court investments — dollars not unwelcome. Bhattacharjee replied: “That’s for you to worry about.”

At least two people knew what they had to worry about — the two diplomats. Both disappeared in a hurry. When approached for comments later, none was forthcoming.

“Repositioning the east” was the theme of the session, but businessmen appeared ready to wait for that. For now, they were full of praise for the chief minister’s political pitch.

“What Buddhababu said is absolutely right. Industry is neither against nor in favour of Saddam Hussein. We are in favour of the Iraqis,” one of them said.

One industrialist commented in jest that the chief minister had “repositioned the CII”. Only one other expressed displeasure, saying Bhattacharjee should not have raised the issue there.

The Telegraph asked CPM state secretary Anil Biswas if it was right of the chief minister to have spoken on Iraq at the CII forum.

“What propriety are you talking about' We as a party do not see anything wrong in his criticism of the invasion of Iraq at the CII event. What propriety have the US and UK shown at different global fora'” he said.

Bhattacharjee’s action drew support from almost all parties, including the Opposition. Congress leader Somen Mitra said: “Whatever the forum, Bhattacharjee said the right thing.”

Will it then also be the right thing to boycott American investment' Not quite. Senior CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee, who is also an investment scout, said: “I don’t see any problem in seeking investment from the US or the UK while boycotting an odd programme.”

Especially when Calcutta is 11th on the list of Indian cities as an investment destination .

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