The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Buddha flying path crosses Karat’s
- Why 50%' New ports, airports should be fully private

Singapore, Aug. 23: This is one cry of reform from Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee that is not going to please party chief Prakash Karat and the so-called hardliners in the CPM.

The Bengal chief minister would like “100 per cent privatisation” in the building of new ports and airports in India. His party is a known opponent of New Delhi’s attempts to privatise airports and hand them over to even domestic entrepreneurs. But Bhattacharjee struck a dramatically different note today.

When a questioner asked him at a meeting, organised by the Institute of South Asian Studies and the Singapore-Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, if the Left in India would agree to a 50 per cent foreign investment in building and modernising airports there, Bhattacharjee replied: “Why 50 per cent' I say private companies are welcome to take 100 per cent equity in such projects.”

On the face it, Bhattacharjee’s statement would seem in conflict with the party line that is opposed to handing airports to private investors. But there is a background to it.

There is a proposal for a second airport in Calcutta. But the project can be expedited only with private participation.

Bhattacharjee sounded unabashedly reformist ' not very different from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh whose name he invoked at every meeting he addressed or held with ministers, government officials and businessmen here.

“Our Prime Minister is working very hard to take India forward and he has a vision for it.”

So, “reform or perish”, he said, a la Manmohan Singh, at a lecture at the Institute of South Asian Studies, where he was the second Indian politician to speak.

Union finance minister P. Chidambaram, with whom the CPM in Delhi has serious policy differences, was the first a few weeks ago.

“Reform or perish” is also the message the chief minister gave to a Singapore delegation he met just before leaving on his foreign trip.

“Globalisation is a must and no one can stop this process,” he said. He would, however, like globalisation not to be used for the “hegemony” of developed countries.

And, he admitted that the Left had made “mistakes” in the past that had held back Bengal’s economic progress. But that was in the past and Bengal under him was open “to all investors”. He assured investors that they had nothing to fear from his government just because it was called the Left Front government.

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