Calcutta, Jan. 12: Eighteen months after a Prime Minister questioned Bengal's industrial decline at an industry meet, his successor used a similar forum to say the state was forging ahead.
It was a dream beginning for Bengal at Partnership Summit 2005 with Manmohan Singh taking the lead in praising the state and its chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, and Ratan Tata lending his voice.
'With Buddhadeb-babu at the helm of affairs, it appears Bengal is once again forging ahead,' the Prime Minister said in his inaugural address at the Confederation of Indian Industry event.
[Singh expressed regret that National Library, where the session was held, had to close its door to readers for four hours for security reasons connected with his visit. In yesterday's edition, The Telegraph had objected to the venue.]
In July 2003, on the 150th anniversary of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce, Singh's predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee had pointed out how dogmatism came in the way of the state's development.
Singh quoted Marx to praise the chief minister for his commitment to the cause of the working people and complimented him for his market-friendly approach.
'When I read in the newspapers that (Wipro's) Azim Premji had called him the nation's best chief minister, I was not at all surprised. I have greatly admired his wit and wisdom, his qualities of head and heart' Singh said.
The country, he added, needed more such 'visionary' leaders.
He then referred to an incident in New York when Purnendu Chatterjee of Haldia Petrochemicals talked about the Bengal government's investor-friendly approach.
Singh used the instances to allay fears in the investor community about the Congress-led Centre's policies.
'With certificates like these from Premji and Purnendu, I do not have to reassure this audience that not only is our government committed to providing an investment-friendly environment but also has the full support of our Left allies in doing so,' the Prime Minister said.
The state cornered not only positive comments but also something tangible.
After the inaugural ceremony, Tata Steel signed a deal with the West Bengal Industrial Corporation to set up a coke oven plant in Haldia at an initial investment of Rs 700 crore.
'This is one more step towards increasing our engagement and investment in Bengal. We have plans to invest in a variety of areas in Bengal. We have belief in the state government and its leadership,' Ratan Tata said on the sidelines of the meet.
The summit, billed as the flagship event of CII, has drawn delegations from the US, the UK, Singapore and Oman, besides representatives from top Indian companies.
The Bengal government, the official partner of CII, has made elaborate plans to showcase the state's strengths to the visiting business leaders.
'Bengal is an investment-friendly state and we are rich in physical and human resources. We want investments in manufacturing industry, services sector and knowledge-based industries,' the chief minister said in his address.
As the discussions and the informal chat sessions continued on the sidelines through the day, industry captains were heard discussing the parallels ' referred to by the Prime Minister in the morning ' between Communist China and Left-ruled Bengal.
The opinion of most was what Ratan Tata had voiced earlier in the day: 'Bengal has not got the kind of attention which it should have got from industry. But I think things will change.'