It was the first chance the city’s business community had to dispute the government’s decision to choose rally over right of way in the wake of Justice Amitava Lala’s September 29 verdict. And Wednesday evening saw it make the most of it.
In the line of fire was state information technology minister Manab Mukherjee, as the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government was blasted for backing disruption over development and taking a giant leap backwards in the business-destination duel.
“On the one hand, our chief minister wants to change the city’s image from cholbe na, cholbe na to cholbe, cholbe. And then he leads the protest against restriction on rallies. What signal does it give'” was how the ‘Branding Calcutta’ Q&A session started.
Before he could get to the end of the broken long-playing record — protecting people’s democratic right to protest and all that — one of the youngest ministers in Bhattacharjee’s cabinet was interrupted and reminded about the business bottomline.
“Changing negative perception is a huge task and the government has just blown a golden marketing opportunity presented by the court judgment,” said a voice from the rear, with many backers. “It has set the clock back by a few years and all the good work done in recent times has been undone by the government’s response to the restrict-rally move,” added another.
Mukherjee was, attendees later remarked, “far from pleased” with the hard talk at the CNBC TV 18-organised discussion, that fast turned into a diatribe from a low-profile section of disgruntled business in Bengal. Not just rallies. From unemployment to lack of infrastructure, poor work culture to shortage of quality professionals, the audience highlighted a host of problems constraining Bengal’s business growth.
But most panelists put up a brave front, picking out the good, from the bad and the ugly. Industrialist Harsh Neotia stressed he was “satisfied” with the performance of his units in Bengal. Government officials Jawhar Sircar, secretary, higher education, and Atri Bhattacharya, executive director, West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation, elaborated on how business has grown and opportunities have multiplied in the ‘do-it-now’ era.
Nothing, however, could steer the conversation clear of the rally controversy. “A positive response to the court verdict on rallies would have helped in creating a better image,” reiterated a participant during the discussion on branding.
“We have to create a brand identity and a management process to back it up,” said Pradeep Kakkar of People United for Better Living in Calcutta (PUBLIC) and suggested involvement of the people to promote a brand new Calcutta on the fast track.