The Telegraph
Friday , August 8 , 2014
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Babu jato bole

Parishod dole

Bole tar shatagun

(What the master says

His courtiers

Say a hundred times more)

From Dui Bigha Jomi, a poem by Rabindranath Tagore

Calcutta, Aug. 7: Amit Mitra has proved Tagore’s arithmetic wrong.

The Bengal industries and finance minister today declared that Ratan Tata may have “lost his mind (motibhrom hoyechhe hoyto)” because the industrialist could not spot many industrial projects while driving down Rajarhat yesterday.

The choice of phrase is inarguably countless times — not just 100 times as Tagore had predicted — more tasteless than the “Tatababu” reference made by Mamata Banerjee in August 2008 while saying “no-no to Nano”.

“Perhaps he should indulge in whatever hobbies he has — flying aeroplanes — let him do all this,” Mitra said, making an indirect reference to how Tata had himself piloted the plane to Calcutta yesterday.

With one fell psychiatric swoop, Mitra today completed his transformation that began when he switched from pinstripe suits to dhuti-panjabi.

Or did he?

“I don’t see much change. When he was in Ficci, he was serving the business community. Now he is doing the same for Mamata with equal gusto,” said a businessman who has known Mitra since he took charge of Ficci in 1994.

When Mitra was inducted by Mamata into her team, many had seen some parallels between him and two of the most educated politicians in India — Manmohan Singh and Asim Dasgupta.

• They have a PhD in economics from a foreign university.

• They can speak English.

• They can juggle numbers.

• They do not have a political constituency of their own.

• Such qualities made them priceless to career politicians.

However, for all their stellar achievements, neither Manmohan Singh nor Asim Dasgupta can boast in their resume that they had diagnosed a visitor to their home state with senility.

Some senior IAS officers spoke of the similarities between Mitra and Asim Dasgupta, the former finance minister and Mitra’s senior in the erstwhile Presidency College.

Jyoti Basu had brought Dasgupta, a distinguished academic and a PhD from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, into the cabinet. Although some ministers had complained about Dasgupta to the then party secretary, Anil Biswas, he remained at the helm of the finance department for 24 years under both Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

“The similarities between them are often so striking… Asimbabu would refer to economic theories at times during meetings. Whenever there is a chance, Mitra refers to concepts from economics and statistics, like carrying out randomised checks,” said an officer.

“But Dasgupta would not have made such a statement on Tata or anybody. He was very measured with his words,” said the IAS officer.

Mitra’s devotion to his leader — who calls him Amit-da — was never in doubt. “Manoniyo mukkhyomantri (hon’ble chief minister)” is a must-include phrase in most of his sentences. In his budget speech for 2014-15, Mitra mentioned the chief minister no less than 15 times.

He had carried the flag with courage beyond the borders, too. An NRI, who was present at meetings addressed by Mitra during his visit to the US in July 2012, recalled how the minister had tried to paint a rosy picture of Bengal. “He kept insisting that Bengal was a better place to do business than Gujarat,” the NRI said.

Many industrialists said today — in private of course and strictly on condition of anonymity — that they were surprised that a person who sat on the boards of as many as 20 public sector companies could say that a veteran industrialist may have lost his mind.

“I was really surprised to hear such undiplomatic words from him…. He was not like this before. I have always seen him smiling and addressing others as ‘Sir’,” said the businessman.

Some young Trinamul leaders also recalled their moments of embarrassment when Mitra called them “Dada” and “Sir” and even got up from his chair to greet them. At least one minister refers to Mitra as “event manager” because he organises meetings between the chief minister and industry chambers as well as some industrialists.

But some who have been following Mitra’s political evolution said they were not that surprised.

On the campaign trail for the 2011 elections, a beaming Mitra would proclaim with pride that he was a student of the country’s Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. However, once Trinamul snapped ties with the UPA, the once-devoted disciple would only speak of the alleged injustices heaped on Bengal by Singh’s government.

Political compulsions may have prompted Mitra to put his public role before his personal preferences.

As with teacher, so with Tata.

“I saw him in various meetings with the government as the head of Ficci…. What used to surprise me was his ability to change his views instantaneously to please the ministers or officers,” said a senior official of another apex chamber.

But what is not clear is why Mitra chose such strong language. He is already the No. 2 in the government.

Some see the hand of political immaturity — which has been an asset so far. Career politicians are adept at grinning and bearing it when matters do not go their way.

Mitra is certain to reel out statistics tomorrow in response to Tata’s question on which industrial projects he had missed in Rajarhat. But every piece of statistics the Mamata government has been churning out has been greeted with mirth. The chief minister’s Facebook page — rippling with cutting comments — gives an insight.

Against such a backdrop and if he is feeling the heat, Mitra could not have chosen anyone bigger than Tata to issue the loudest declaration of gratitude to Mamata. Narendra Modi is already taken, with Trinamul spokesperson Derek O’Brien calling him the “butcher of Gujarat” a few months ago.

Being Trinamul’s chief national spokesperson who does not speak that often, Mitra has finally done justice to his political post.

Business in Bengal need not despair. There could still be light at the end of the tunnel.

Most businessmen this newspaper spoke to said Mitra had played a key role in transforming Ficci and injecting professionalism into the organisation.

“But he probably suffered from a complex as the CII was always ahead of Ficci…. Besides, Tarun Das, the then CII director-general, had the guts to call a spade a spade behind closed doors and he was more respected both in the government and the industry,” said the chamber official.

If Tata — like Das — can now inspire Mitra to do to Bengal what he had done to Ficci, one modern-day poet or the other is certain to pen a ballad to the “fertile imagination” of Amit Mitra.

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