Over the past few years, the country has witnessed a plethora of investor
summits, not just in different state capitals, but also in smaller towns and
cities that have been organised by various state governments in collaboration
with national and local chambers of commerce with the objective of attracting
investments, and by extension, jobs to their regions.
From the more industrially developed states like Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil
Nadu to IT powerhouse Karnataka, and prosperous regions like Punjab and the
National Capital Region, to those once disparagingly referred to as BIMARU
states, almost all states have held at least one or more major investor summit
in their regions with varying degrees of success. West Bengal has also not been
far behind in this exercise, particularly in the last decade or so.
At a time when the colour of money has ceased to hold any significance for
states vying with each other to become the destination of choice for
businessmen, investment summits have come to be looked upon as a great
opportunity to showcase a region’s strengths to the moneybags – leading
industrialists and high-flying CEOs of MNCs – whose nod of approval can ensure
the flow of hundreds and thousands of crores of capital to the state.
Given the current state of the economy in India with expected GDP growth this
fiscal in the range of 5-5.5 percent likely to compound the agony of another low
growth year witnessed in 2011-12, and investments coming to a virtual
standstill, the competition between states for a bigger slice of the investment
pie has become more fierce. Understandably, therefore, investor summits have
come to acquire an importance like never before, with their outcomes - measured
in the nature of investment announcements - coming to symbolise the new badge of
honour for states and their respective chief ministers.
Given this backdrop, it is thus not surprising that the West Bengal government’s
decision to hold Bengal Leads in Haldia would inevitably lead to comparisons
with ‘Vibrant Gujarat 2013’ – the latest edition of Gujarat Chief Minister
Narendra Modi’s annual tryst with global and local businessmen – and the
investments announced at the Haldia function being benchmarked against that in
Gujarat. However, adopting such an approach would be very myopic in nature and
akin to comparing apples with oranges.
Unlike Gujarat which - even before Modi came on to the scene – has always been
looked upon favourably by businessmen of all hues, and whose lustre has only
increased further under Modi, the same, unfortunately, has not been true of West
Bengal. Ignored by big businessmen for almost three decades from the late 60s to
the late 1990s, West Bengal has had to struggle to attract private capital even
after things improved slightly thereafter. A limited positive momentum that
developed in the early years of the last decade under the previous government
dissipated equally quickly with the then authorities failed to handle issues
around land acquisition leading to projects being abandoned or wallowing in cold
Thus, unlike Modi, who could build on the traditional investor-friendly image of
Gujarat and attempt to carry it to stratospheric levels, the present government
in West Bengal, did not have such a positive platform to start from - its
situation made more difficult by the huge debts the previous government had left
it with by way of legacy. Inevitably thus, the priority of the Mamata Banerjee
government has been to find ways and means to improve the state’s finances, with
greater investment flows seen as one of the vehicles for achieving this end.
Restoring business confidence in the state has, therefore, been one task the
government has been engaged in assiduously over the past two years.
Consequently, Bengal Leads has to be viewed in a continuum of confidence
building measures (CBMs) embarked on by the Mamata Banerjee government and not
as an isolated event by itself that can be compared to a ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ or
their like, as Bengal Leads is much more than announcing numbers. It is about
sending out a message that the government is keen to walk the extra mile to make
businessmen feel at home in West Bengal and the authorities did that quite well
through the Haldia event. At the end of the day, when all states are offering
more or less the same fiscal incentives, it is this seriousness of the
authorities that may tip the scales in West Bengal’s favour when it comes to
attracting big ticket investments in future.