In Retrospect

Biswa-Bangla goes global

The fifth edition of Bengal Global Business Summit attracted business tycoons from across the country and globe, reminding audiences once again that Bengal means business

For well-known American author John Maxwell, "A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, shows the way."

It will be neither an exaggeration nor flattery to recognise West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with the words of Maxwell. At a time when the state was grabbing headlines for the dharna hosted by Banerjee opposing CBI's diminishing integrity – within hours, her administration was able to successfully conduct one of the biggest summits that attracted not just Indian investors but reputed delegates from across the globe.

From Reliance India Ltd Managing Director Mukesh Ambani to members of the Italian and US delegation, the recently-concluded 5th edition of Bengal Global Business Summit (BGBS), held on February 7 and 8, witnessed a cohort of businessmen, investors, industrialists, all enthusiastic about the prospects of connecting with Bengal – the land for all. Among the many guests, one figure stood tall – that of CM Mamata Banerjee. Her warmth, sincerity and ability to think quickly and effectively have attracted several investors, both domestic and foreign, to Bengal.

Calling Kolkata "the City of Hope now", Mukesh Ambani said to the Chief Minister, "I had mentioned last year that under your leadership West Bengal is becoming best Bengal. This is indeed coming true. My warmest congratulations to you and your leadership for taking Bengal to greater heights." Sanjiv Goenka, chairman RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group, quoted India Today to describe Mamata Banerjee "as the No 1 Chief Minister in India".

The Italian and German delegation had already been acquainted with Banerjee's acumen and warmth. During her visit to these countries, she had held meetings with representatives of various chambers of commerce and invited them to join BGBS. Over the past five years, investment proposals have indeed grown. But, before entering details, it will be relevant to discuss the pivotal role Banerjee has played in crystallising Bengal's fortunes today.

Calcutta, now Kolkata, the heart of the British Empire, was not only the cultural and political capital of colonial India but also the business capital. East Bengal was famous for its jute and cotton mills. while south Bengal (now West Bengal after Partition) too hosted several jute mills. Muslin of Murshidabad and silk of Malda were very famous, particularly among English aristocratic women, who loved to wear gowns made of muslins and studded with jewels. After 1911, when the capital was shifted to Delhi, Bengal lost its political grip but remained the cultural and business capital of the country. Howrah was called 'Sheffield of the East', as every household hosted small factories that manufactured nuts and bolts. The Durgapur-Asansol belt also bubbled with industries. The country's first joint venture cycle company, Sen Raleigh, also had its factory at Kanyapur, off Asansol.

Bengal began witnessing a sharp fall in its industrial performance after the Left Front came to power in 1977. Prior to that, in early-1970, as a fallout of the Naxal movement, capital had begun shifting to Gujarat.

Claiming to protect the working class, the Left Front had instead ruptured Bengal's industrial atmosphere. Managers of several jute mills had been murdered and tea gardens were closed down. Industrialists became weary of investing in Bengal and the loss of man-days reached a staggering 75 million. The country's first automobile manufacturing company, Hindustan Motors, was closed, followed by Dunlop. Bengal was famous for its hosiery industry and bulb manufacturing industry. Due to militant trade unionism, the hosiery industry shifted to south India and the bulb manufacturing industry went to Kanpur. The micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME), which was the backbone of small-scale industries in Bengal, also received a major setback.

Amid this crisis, Mamata Banerjee assumed power in Bengal in 2011, bringing 34 years of communist rule to a jolting end. Restructuring industry was her toughest undertaking, as the new Bengal government had to rebuild confidence among industrialists. To attract global players in industry and showcase the uniqueness and opportunities in Bengal, Mamata Banerjee initiated Bengal Global Business Summit in 2015.

While appealing to industrialists, Mamata Banerjee reminded everyone in BGBS 2019 of Bengal's array of geographical advantages. It is the gateway to Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and North-East India, and is also the centre of business activities in eastern India. It takes only 45 minutes to reach Bangladesh by air. While reaching Nepal or the far east takes anything between one hour to four hours by air. One can even reach Dubai within five hours, she maintained. "Thus, investing in Bengal will help you have your grip over such a big hinterland," she remarked.

Investment proposals have witnessed a steady rise over the past five years. In 2015, BGBS had witnessed Rs 2,43,100 crore worth business announcements alongside the participation of 20 countries. In 2016, Rs 2,50,253 crore business announcements had been made from 26 countries. BGBS 2017, which was inaugurated by then President of India Pranab Mukherjee, witnessed business announcements worth Rs 2,35,290 crore with the participation of 4,000 delegates. In 2018, business proposals worth Rs 2,19,925 crore were announced and 32 countries took part.

BGBS 2019 saw a sharp rise in business proposals at Rs 2,84,288 crore, with a total of 36 countries participating in the event that hosted B2B meetings and networking lunches.

On February 7, BGBS witnessed investment proposals worth Rs 55,000 crore. Mukesh Ambani announced that RIL will invest another Rs 10,000 crore. Sajjal Jindal of JSW said that the capacity of the cement factory has been doubled, involving Rs 11,000 crore. Jindal proposed to set up a pump storage project worth Rs 6,000 crore. Y K Modi, director of Aavaran Limited, announced that his company will invest Rs 15,000 crore in the seal gas sector in the next few years. Business tycoon Niranjan Hiranandani also proposed to invest Rs 5,000 crore in Bengal. Ranjan Bharati Mittal is considering a proposal of investing Rs 5,000 crore in Bengal. He also recollected that the first mobile phone by Airtel was launched in Kolkata in the 1990s.

The Italian delegation proposed to explore the handcraft jewellery sector and tourism, while the German delegation expressed interest in MSME. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has also been signed with Calcutta University in the presence of vice-chancellor Sonali Chakraborty Banerjee.

The past seven years have witnessed several enhancements in infrastructure across Bengal. Road connectivity has improved and even backward districts like Purulia, Bankura, West Midnapore, Jhargram, Birbhum and east and west Burdwan are now hosting industries with MSME clusters being set up.

Bengal is now No 1 in the MSME sector and ease of doing business. The state has done a remarkable job in Panchayat and rural development, rural electrification, road connectivity and providing unhindered drinking water supply. If this pace of development is continued, in the very near future "Bangla will become Biswa Bangla" – a cherished dream of Mamata Banerjee. And, we will once again confirm the famous saying of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, which he had said over a century ago, "What Bengal thinks today, India thinks two weeks hence."

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