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Business beyond Bengal: Mamata speaks more of the country

Trinamul chief sends a political message from Bengal Global Business Summit

By Devadeep Purohit in Calcutta
  • Published 8.02.19, 3:43 AM
  • Updated 8.02.19, 4:52 AM
  • 3 mins read
Mamata Banerjee with Mukesh Ambani at the business summit. (Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya)

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday assured some of the biggest names of India Inc that the policies governing industry would change after the Lok Sabha polls and shared her resolve to work for the whole of the country.

The twin pledges, rolled out during the inaugural session of the Bengal Global Business Summit, marked her attempt to position herself at the centre of the Opposition parties in their fight against the Narendra Modi regime.

“I know the problems you (industry) are facing. I can assure you that after the change in the government, our industry will get a new policy. That will boost the industry and the economy,” she said while concluding her speech at the fifth edition of the state’s annual business conclave.

Listening to her were industrialists like Mukesh Ambani, Sajjan Jindal, Rajan Bharti Mittal and Niranjan Hiranandani. Ministers, ambassadors and business delegates from 36 countries were in the audience as she delivered a political speech, wrapped in business parlance, without naming any political party or its leader.

The assurance — to the local and global audience — not only sought to convey her confidence about a non-BJP regime in New Delhi after the polls but also a conviction that she would be in a position to influence policies after a change of guard in the national capital.

“Everyone here wants a happy tomorrow. Let’s dream for a happy tomorrow,” she said, signing off.

Over the last few years, the summit has become the most important event in the state’s annual roster .

As urban unemployment has been an Achilles heel of the Trinamul government, the state government has been actively trying to woo both local and foreign investment by competing with other states that also host similar events.

Against this backdrop, the 2019 edition of the show stood out as it witnessed the emergence of a new version of Mamata, who spoke less of Bengal and more of the country.

Unlike her past speeches, she was not trying to list Bengal's competitive advantage and instead focused on balanced growth so that no region remains deprived.

“We want to see the whole of India is growing.… Not only Bengal, we want Punjab, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, the north-eastern states, Odisha, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand and all other states to grow. We want to work for the happiness of the people,” said Mamata, sending out a message that she was not talking only as the chief minister of Bengal.

Sources close to her said that she was upset after receiving information that her political opponents were discouraging some businessmen from attending the summit.

“She sent out a message that she was not as mean as them and she wanted all the states to prosper irrespective of the government in power,” said a source.

Looking beyond Bengal and addressing a wider audience seem to be the theme of this season for Mamata.

On January 19, she held a show of strength rally against the BJP government with 23 regional parties under the banner of United India. Earlier this week, she sat on a 70-hour dharna — with Save India as its motto — to protest the Centre’s assault on the state. Several regional leaders like Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, DMK leader Kanimozhi and RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav had joined the protest.

“She has moved beyond Bengal.… She is addressing the country and taking on Prime Minister Modi head on. The speech today was no different,” said a foreign diplomat who did not wish to be named.

Although the elections are a few months away and it is too early to predict the outcome, the quality of the turnout from India Inc at Thursday's event must have been satisfying for Mamata.

“I know your problems and difficulties…. I know several of our industrialist friends are outside the country. I want to request them to come back and invest in India,” she said. “Bengal is for all... Bengal wants to see that India gains and grows,” she added.

This message of inclusive growth — for all the regions of the country and for all categories of people — was the main takeaway from Day One of the business summit in Bengal.

The message was political as she tried to present an alternative to the BJP’s brand of politics to a business audience, said a city-based industrialist.

“She spoke like a national leader. She tried to stress that unlike the BJP, she was inclusive in her approach.… She also stressed that she was willing to work for all the regions,” said the industrialist.

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