The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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‘I’ for investment, not imperialism

Calcutta, Sept. 2: Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today “operationalised” his policy of priorities, concentrating on investment, not imperialism, at an event to celebrate friendship with Vietnam.

The Vietnam platform would have been the perfect pulpit for the CPM to rain fire and brimstone on the US nuclear deal in the middle of a fragile truce with the Congress.

But the chief minister stuck to a script shorn of “imperialism”, which the Left equates with communalism.

“Vietnam has succeeded in attracting the largest amount of FDI (foreign direct investment) in the entire Southeast Asia. Its predominantly agrarian economy has been transformed into a fast-developing industrial one,’’ Bhattacharjee said.

He was addressing the inaugural session of the Indo-Vietnam Friendship Festival at Netaji Indoor Stadium.

The chief minister may have been talking about Vietnam but the eulogy’s uncanny resemblance to his “wish list” for Bengal was hard to miss. Bhattacharjee has been fighting a battle for land acquisition on the premise that the future of Bengal lies in industry, not low-yielding agriculture.

Vietnam has pulled off that transformation. According to official estimates, industry accounts for 42 per cent of Vietnam’s GDP, pushing agriculture down to 20 per cent.

Bhattacharjee also referred to Doi Moi (revitalisation) — a euphemism for the economic reforms initiated by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1986 — describing the country’s economic development as “fascinating”.

The chief minister had last month signalled where his priorities lay, skipping a key party meeting in Delhi on the nuclear deal to pursue business proposals in Calcutta. The Bengal CPM is also reluctant to fight early polls, fearing that a possible poor show would affect the state government’s ability to push through its programmes.

Bhattacharjee did make a reference to the US. “Vietnam fought and won the heroic battle against the mightiest military power of the world. Now, the country is also winning the battle of socialist reorganisation,” he said.

In the second battle, too, America is playing a growing role. In 2006, US companies invested in Vietnam $4 billion, a growth of 166 per cent over the previous year.

However, if US investment is a yardstick, Bengal can take solace in one investment. McDonald’s — the symbol of the American brand of business — has set up shop in Calcutta but is expected to do so in Vietnam only later this year.

Ironically, the I-word that Bhattacharjee shunned was uttered by Pranab Mukherjee, who spent the better part of the past few weeks troubleshooting on the nuclear deal.

Mukherjee spoke of “Vietnam’s indomitable spirit, strong determination and conviction in winning its marvellous struggle against imperialism”.

But the foreign minister echoed the chief minister, saying: “We have to learn from Vietnam about economic reforms. We can’t afford to behave like frogs in the well and must learn to cope up with the changing world.’’

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