New Delhi, Dec. 17: Mamata Banerjee drew only a handful of big-ticket business surnames to her Delhi durbar and one left midway after raising the unpalatable FDI in retail in what was interpreted as a “walkout”.
About an hour into the interaction at the new Banga Bhavan complex in Chanakyapuri, Sunil Munjal of the Hero Group suggested that the Trinamul Congress review its opposition to FDI in multi-brand retail as it would help farmers in Bengal. He also referred to the land problem.
Munjal, the joint managing director of Hero MotoCorp, added that the state should identify 100 important projects, monitor them constantly at the highest level and showcase them as success stories.
“I wish you all the best,” Munjal told Mamata.
“I wish you all the best in your business, too,” Mamata replied. It was around 7.15pm.
A little later, Munjal left and the programme continued for another half an hour.
While leaving, Munjal told waiting reporters — the event was a closed-door affair — that the Hero Group had no plans to invest in Bengal at the moment. “I came here because she invited me,” Munjal said.
The organisers of the show insisted Munjal had informed them in advance that he had another programme and would have to leave at 7pm — the scheduled closing time.
But a source close to Munjal said late tonight: “You can call it a walkout if you must. Somebody had to tell it as it is. Many kept saying they had problems but, in the next breath, they were showering praises.”
Asked about Munjal’s FDI statement, Rajan Bharti Mittal, who is spearheading the Bharti Group’s joint venture with Walmart for retail and who took part in the interaction today, said: “She said she needs more time to understand things like this and it can’t happen in a forum like this.”
Munjal and Mittal were among some of the big names at the meeting that otherwise largely drew second-rung business representatives. Some of the other standout names were Atul Singh, president of Coca-Cola India, Pratap C. Reddy, chairman of Apollo Hospital, and Naina Lal Kidwai, country head of HSBC. Apollo has operations in Bengal and Kidwai is also Ficci president.
“We explained our government’s stand on industry. It was a very good discussion. People had misconception about Bengal. They have been cleared,” Mamata said after the meeting.
Several participants later applauded her “sincerity” but added it was too early to say if investments would flow in.
Ajit Gulabchand, the chairman of construction major HCC, said the meeting went off well but added that business could not be held hostage to politics.
“You have to create a predictable atmosphere for business to thrive. If there is a policy, no one is going to change it, nobody is going to pass a retrospective act or going to stop implementation of a project. Without that, who will invest?” Gulabchand asked without making a direct reference to Singur.
“I liked her passion. But I want to see the implementation on the ground,” he added.
An insider said at least two participants pointed out that it was difficult to get any job done in Bengal and the state’s image needed correction.
“The CM explained that her government has been in place for just about 18 months and she had many priorities,” the source said.
Trinamul MP Derek ’Brien later described the event as “the most important meeting in the party’s history”.