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Mamata means business

Calcutta, Aug. 21: If Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had his DIN, Mamata Banerjee is seeking to outdo him with DII.

Do It Immediately (DII) — Mamata today stressed speed during her first meeting with industry representatives after taking charge at Rail Bhavan.

“I am impatient. I can’t wait. Do it immediately,” said the chief minister-in-waiting, asking for industry’s partnership in the growth of the railways and the state of Bengal.

Although the railways had organised the event, Mamata used it as an exercise in one-up-manship on Bhattacharjee who has an industry-friendly image while the Trinamul leader’s record is disruptive, thanks to Singur.

Sanjiv Goenka, Karan Paul, G.P. Goenka, C.K. Dhanuka, Pawan Ruia, J.P. Chowdhury — nearly all of the state’s top industrialists attended the meeting. Ficci secretary-general Amit Mitra, who appears to be Mamata’s point man for dealings with industry, was also present along with Railway Board members and senior rail officials.

During the two-and-a-half-hour session, Mamata did not attack her punching bag, the Left Front. But the message was clear.

“The railways are proud to have earmarked over 112,000 acres of land for commercial use in just two months,” she boasted.

The not-so-hidden implication: the Bengal government hasn’t yet done it despite spending over 32 years in power.

Rolling out the railway ministry’s projects — from freight corridors to new locomotive and wagon units — she asked industry for proposals to use the land to develop business.

Around the same time last year, Mamata was giving the finishing touches to her effort to drive Tata Motors out of Singur by staging an indefinite sit-in outside the plant. The small-car project sank but Mamata’s electoral fortunes soared and the turnout at today’s meeting was further vindication of her arrival at the political centre stage.

No one asked her a question about Singur but M.K. Jalan of Keventer Agro wanted to know “the three things” she would do if she came to power in Bengal.

Mamata didn’t have an answer but she tried to assuage the concerns of the business community by promising a “disturbance-free” atmosphere.

Her supporters have been accused of fanning trouble in several parts of the state, but Trinamul’s brand of politics did not come in the way of her blooming bonhomie with the industry representatives, who left impressed with MBA, Mamata’s Business Acumen, as one of her aides put it.

“She has done a smart thing by surrounding herself with people like Mitra who understand the concerns of business and that will help her in creating the right image for herself,” said a city-based professional, known for his proximity to the Left Front government.

Her recent makeover has also won her admirers. “Mamata Banerjee was known for gherao.… But today, you are smiling, soft-spoken and compassionate. The perception about you has changed,” said Sanjay Budhia.

“We have never talked one-to-one like this…. Now that we have come closer, you will get to know me in a better way,” she smiled.

The first few rows had several poster boys of Bhattacharjee’s industrialisation drive. But most of them sounded comfortable with Mamata.

“From petrochemicals to hospitality and IT services to motorbike manufacturing, we are almost in all industries. You tell us where you want our involvement in the state and we will be there,” said Prasoon Mukherjee, a partner of Indonesia’s Salim Group. Once a darling of the Left Front government, Mukherjee drew quizzical looks from fellow travellers about his expansive offer.

Several political analysts have linked Mamata’s political turnaround to her fierce opposition to several Salim projects: the chemical hub that was first to come up at Nandigram and then at Nayachar, and the Barasat-Raichak road.

“We will meet again in three months and take stock of how things have progressed. Will you all come to that meeting?” Mamata asked.

The reply was a chorus of “yes” from the audience, which gave her a standing ovation as the curtain dropped.

It remains to be seen if DII will rise above DIN.


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