The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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CM spins candid charm

Mumbai, Aug. 22: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee sat at the high table of Indian business to showcase Bengal’s investment opportunities last night at an event organised by ABP Ltd, the publishers of The Telegraph.

It’s not always that Ratan Tata and Mukesh Ambani share a table, that too flanking a chief minister from Bengal. Bhattacharjee did not disappoint such an audience.

“I tell you that they (the vocal members from the Left) will speak their minds to the finance minister (P. Chidambaram), but finally they’ll agree to disagree,” the chief minister told a galaxy of India’s best-known industrialists who attended a roadshow at the Taj Mahal hotel’s Crystal Room to highlight the virtues of “Doing Business in Bengal”.

He was reacting to concerns about the Left’s strident opposition to foreign direct investment (FDI), especially in areas like insurance.

While making a strong pitch to attract investment into Bengal, Bhattacharjee said: “I have told my Left colleagues at the Centre that I cannot oppose FDI. My government’s views on the issue are fashioned by the practical realities of the present rather than the dogmas of the past.”

“Our industry policy is open. We are not fools. We will welcome foreign investment,” the chief minister declared, adding that the Left had tempered its fierce, antagonistic views towards the owners of capital.

Bhattacharjee faced a flurry of questions from the industrialists about the Left’s stand on a range of economic issues and its doctrine of governance.

Adi Godrej, who controls a gaggle of businesses ranging from soaps to poultry and call centres, lobbed the first question: “Don’t you think your colleagues in the politburo should tone down their rhetoric'”

The chief minister was disarmingly candid about some decisions of the past, especially the encouragement of militant trade unionism in the seventies, that had prompted industry to close down factories and invest in other states.

Referring to the outspoken section within his party, especially those who had trade union backgrounds, he said: “These people do not understand the present-day scenario. They don’t understand the economy. All they know is to formulate a charter of demands, raise slogans and disturb production.”

He indicated that his government had distanced itself from these elements which were hurting the state’s image.

“We will not support such undemocratic acts. We have acted firmly by calling in police when the unions turned militant at Bata and a Pepsi factory,” he said.

Industry, he said, had started to appreciate his government’s changed stance and cited the example of Japanese investments in the state. It is now time for the domestic industrialists to join in, he added.

Besides Ambani, Godrej and Tata, the industrialists who attended the roadshow included Venugopal Dhoot from the Videocon group, Asim Ghosh from Hutch and Harsh Goenka of the RPG group.

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