The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pro-business here, protest there

Calcutta, Sept. 2: A start right on the dot, a slick audio-visual presentation, an SMS question from Infosys CEO Nandan Nilekani, an interaction stretching beyond the scheduled close — every trademark of another Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee business show.

Only this time, the spotlight was on a woman in white-and-blue sari, not a man in dhoti, rolling out the red carpet for investors.

“We want industry… we don’t have any quarrel with the Tatas, the Birlas or the Goenkas,” Mamata Banerjee told a group of industrialists this afternoon.

The Trinamul Congress chief was addressing her party legislature meeting at the Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The reason: to clear her stand on the farm-versus-factory debate.

Trinamul is opposing Tata Mo- tors’ project at Singur, Hooghly. Mamata has vowed to do the same wherever the government intends to acquire agricultural land for industry.

“We are being portrayed as anti-industry, but that’s false propaganda. Our stand is clear: we welcome industry, but not at the cost of farmers,” she said today.

At Singur, 40 km from Calcutta, Trinamul has rallied around the fledgling Krishi Jomi Banchao (save farmland) Committee. On July 18, Mamata planted aman saplings in a field to protest against the government’s decision to allow the Tatas to set up shop there.

But today was different. The 15-minute audio-visual presentation before the Q&A session included the party’s rebuttal of the government’s claims of industrial rejuvenation and an alternative “action plan”.

That she has vowed another round of protests in Singur from September 10 did not find mention.

“Probably she is trying to tell the world that she also wants industry in Bengal,” said Biswadeep Gupta of Vesuvius India.

The other participants included chamber president Aloke Mukherjea, industrialists Sanjay Budhia and Ravi Poddar and Abhijit Sen of Nicco. Like Nilekani, Rahul Bajaj and Sam Pitroda sent their questions.

The Infosys boss asked what was Trinamul’s reaction to Calcutta turning an IT hub. Mamata said: “We welcome it.”

As Union minister, she had joined hands with the private sector for joint venture projects, she reminded the audience.

Yesterday, Trinamul supporters prevented government officials from handing over notices to farmers whose land would be acquired.

Mukherjea asked Mamata whether the state would “miss the bus once again” because of the farm- factory debate.

She suggested utilisation of non-agricultural land in remote areas for industry. Asked about infrastructure, Mamata said: “The government should create that.”

Mukherjea said: “It was the party’s first such initiative, we welcome that. But we didn’t get answers to all our questions.”

The chief minister, a veteran of such interactions now, today explained to party members that industrialists would have to be given land at locations of their choice. “Or else, they will invest in other states,” he told a party meeting.

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