Monday, May 15, 2006

BUDDHA SHINING AND SMILING



The recent landslide victory of CPI(M) in the state elections in West Bengal has made one point very clear. That Budddhadeb Bhattacharya, the CM, has effectively come out of the shade of the octogenarian leader Jyoti Babu and that he is his own master. Providing leadership from the front, he has in a short period after taking over the reins,transformed West Bengal from a dying state to a vibrant one. In Bengali they say,"praan ta abar eshegayche". The vital breath has come back.That is the state of West bengal today.

WB is clocking a per capita income growth rate of 5.4%. Which is exceptional. Very few states can match WB's growth. Iron&Steel,IT,Petrochemicals and Agribusiness & food processing are the new growth industries. Manikanchan,a gem and jewellery park of world class has been set up in Salt Lake City. Also Asia's largest leather complex has come up in the outskirts of Kolkata. The Salim group of Indonesia is setting up a 2 wheeler plant. A light engineering park,a food processing park and a rubber park are all being established. The WB government is wooing investors with subsidised land and other incentives.

Honest to the core,BB is a man of simple habits and tastes,a typical Bengali bhadralok,living in a two room apartment in South Kolkata. He has impressed political and business leaders all over the world by the style in which he has gone about his job to make West Bengal an investment attraction for industrialists and entrepreneurs. Ratan Tata,Ashim Premji,Narayana Murthy, and other captains of industry have praised him to the hilt for his businesslike efficiency in making WB catch up in the growth league with other States.

Post independence, West Bengal was the number 1 state in industrial growth.Late B C Roy had done a great job as the first CM. When the communists came to power much later,they brought about major land reforms and improved the lot of the poor people in the rural areas. But then the Naxalite movement in the late 60s and early 70s forced industrialists to rundown their local units and start new ventures in other States.The work culture had also deteriorated to an abysmal level. Kolkata folded under the pressure of refugees from East Pakistan first and Bangladeh later and without the required infrastructure the rot set in.

This decade has seen a transformation which no one in their wildest dreams would ever have imagined. Buddhababu constantly chants "aamar fdi (foreign direct investment) chaai". That has been his mantra."I want fdi". Last year BB visited Italy and other European countries to attract foreign investment. WB Government has entered into a partnership with an Indonesian conglomerate,the Salim group, for building a huge residential cum shopping complex. Infosys and Wipro are investing in a big way and Tatas are likely to set up a manufacturing plant. Jindals and Mittals have shown keen interest too. Even the ex cricket captain of Australia,Steve Waugh,who has adopted an orphange in Kolkata,is considering investment in a cricket training complex.

BB had an excellent rapport with L.K.Advani when the BJP was in power. When LKA used to praise BB,it was generally considered to be an embarrassment as both the parties are sworn enemies. Similarly,his relationship with Manmohan Singh is very warm. MS too lavished praises on him when he found in him a champion in opening up the State's economy and in going through the painful process of economic reforms. His is a brand of Marxism heavily borrowed from Deng Xu Ping Of Communist China.A bit of plagiarism,one would say. But then anyone can hardly complain.

BB wants more investments to come into the state,more jobs to be created,and wants labour to enhance productivity. Reform,perform or perish. Guardian and FT covered him extensively and praised him for his outstanding leadership. The Marwaris of Kolkata love him because he understands their business language.

I often travel to Kolkata.Atleast once a month. Our registered office is located in Shakespeare Sarani and our Chairman sits in Kolkata . I can see the change that is transforming this great city. First is the building activity. Residential townships,flyovers,roads,multistoreyed buildings,etc. Several five star hotels have comeup indicating the increase in tourist traffic. A new road has been built from Park Circus to Dum Dum which cuts the travelling time to the airport considerably.The metro is expected to be connected to Dum Dum soon. Raajar hat is a well planned sotware cum residential park. And then the Malls.There is a virtual retail boom. When I expressed my surprise seeing so many malls coming up,a knowledgeable friend of mine remarked,"this is just the tip of the iceberg".

In the old days,load shedding was a recurring phenomenon.No more.The State has adequate power by improving the PLF(plant load factor) and cutting down on distribution and transmisssion losses,an euphemism for power theft. It is blessed with plenty of water. In which other city in India can you find trams,local trains,underground tube,and a top-class airport. People of various religions and beliefs live together in peace and amity .And Kolkata is not expensive. No wonder everyone is making a beeline to West Bengal. And a friendly and supportive CM ably assisted by the Babudom can really work miracles and bring West Bengal back to the top position as the numero uno State.

Buddhababu is shining and deservedly smiling. A Laughing Buddha is supposed to bring good luck. We hope the smile on Buddhababu's face will soon transform into a laugh. And that should become West Bengal's icon. The Laughing Buddha.

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