The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Nirupam wraps Bengal in China colours to woo Japanese

New Delhi, Dec. 15: “Aamrao Communist (We are Communists, too)”. That is the new sales pitch to jockey the state into public perception as an upcoming investment destination.

Public relations consultants have advised the state government to conceal its Marxist tag but industries minister Nirupam Sen flaunted it today and tried to paint the state as a China in the making.

Sen’s strategy of drawing parallels with a pragmatic communist China while making a pitch for investments was an attempt to differentiate Bengal from a host of other me-too investment-seeking states.

At a closed door meeting with top representatives of Japanese firms interested in India, Sen tentatively unveiled the pitch for the first time. He told the Japanese chief executives: “If you can invest in China, despite it being a communist nation, West Bengal, also ruled by a CPM government and endowed with similar advantages in terms of skilled manpower, access to sea routes and mineral wealth, should also be considered.”

“People’s party and people’s movement are good for industry,” Sen said while referring to how China is thriving. “You have the example in your neighbour. Today, China is a leader in world economy.”

“Like China, we too have a stable and committed government,” Sen told representatives of Mitsubishi, Mitsui, Itochu, Marubeni and the Bank of Tokyo among others at a meeting organised here by the Calcutta-based Indian Chamber of Commerce.

The point apparently went down well given the fact that the Marxists have been in power for 26 years while governments in most states keep changing, leaving investors in the lurch. There was a scramble for copies of his speech after Sen finished.

Bengal will adopt the same strategy when it makes a pitch for European investors at a meeting in January. Another investment roadshow is planned with Asean nations but it is unlikely that the same pitch will be made there given the association’s wariness about communism.

Sen offered control of state-run firms to “serious” Japanese investors and offered to let them pick a bite of the booming retail market in Calcutta. The CPM has, however, consistently hit out at all central moves to disinvest in PSUs and its MP Hannan Mollah has time and again championed in the lower House the cause of small shopkeepers against foreign investments in retailing.

Sen also offered Japanese investors infrastructure projects, a slice of the downstream chemicals industry that Haldia Petrochem is expected to spawn, bio-tech parks in the Himalayas and mineral concessions.

Perhaps keeping in mind the controversy that riot-tarred Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has managed to kick up every time he has addressed industry gatherings outside his state, Sen stressed on Bengal’s record of “social harmony.”

Bikash Biswas, an expert on Japanese economy who has dealt with trading giants for decades, said Sen has done a good job. “He has deliberately picked up key ideas that impress the Japanese — stability of a regime, social tranquillity and commitment to a given policy.”

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