Will Mamata bite the FDI bait?

Last Updated: Sat, Oct 13, 2012 14:38 hrs

Kolkata: Prospective investors are waiting on foreign shores and industry bodies are lobbying hard, but will West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee bite the bait and allow overseas investment for her cash and industry starved state?

Ever since the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government initiated the "much needed" economic reforms, Banerjee has been up in arms against them and rallying for support against the moves.

Banerjee's Trinamool Congress' divorce with its ally Congress over the FDI in multi-brand retail and diesel price hike may have earned her political brownie points, but experts say she has harmed the larger interest of the state, which is at the crossroads on the financial front.

"She is desperate to woo investors but by opposing the economic reforms she herself is putting up barricades in their way. Banerjee's opposition has only strengthened the perception of her being anti-industry," economist Bipul Malakar said.

Banerjee's "save farmland" movement drove out an industry giant out of the state and catapulted her to the seat of power but made many to perceive her as anti-industry.

Banerjee's opposition to FDI has the Communists describing her as "more Leftist than the Leftists". Friend-turned-foe, the Congress, is finding her endeavour to drum up countrywide support an attempt to fan her "higher ambitions" in national politics.

The feisty leader has already addressed a mass gathering in New Delhi opposing FDI and is slated to visit other states to drum up support on the issue. She has been regularly bashing the Congress for its anti people policies and vociferously declared she will "not allow a Walmart in Bengal".

Banerjee, who has been organising industry meets often and even got Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan as the state's brand ambassador, would be happy at the words of a French diplomat who said his country was keen on exploring investments in the state.

However, on the flip side, it has been over a year since she came to power and her government is yet to attract a big ticket investment. Moreover, IT giant Infosys' project in the state is now a lost case due to the Trinamool Congress' anti SEZ policy.

With the state under huge debts, the state Congress has been advocating economic reforms as the "best way" to revive West Bengal's fledging economy.

"West Bengal's economic condition is precarious. There is unemployment, industry is suffering and investors are indifferent. In this situation, FDI is the only answer. She must think about the larger interest of the state and not petty political gains," state Congress president Pradip Bhattacharya said.

Industry captains and lobbyists like FICCI and the ASOCHAM have been trying to cajole and convince Banerjee about the benefits of allowing FDI in the state.

ASSOCHAM Secretary General D.S. Rawat, who met West Bengal Chief Secretary Sanjay Mitra, said FDI in retail would help the state on four counts: infrastructure development, employment and income generation and benefit to farmers.

With the rural polls on the horizon, Banerjee may not allow the reforms but industry captains are hopeful.

"It may take time but we are hopeful that she will understand our concerns and take a suitable decision in the larger interest of the state," managing director of Patton Group of Companies Sanjay Budhia said.

However, Malakar said it was highly unlikely that the government would relent.

"FDI in retail seeks to eliminate middlemen who are a big source of funds for all political parties. It is highly unlikely that the reform will be implemented in the state in the near future," said Malakar.

Anurag Dey can be contacted at deyvil@gmail.com)

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