Political bonhomie between two arch political rivals overtook business enterprises on day one of the ‘Global Bengal Business summit’ inaugurated in Kolkata on Wednesday. The West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and union finance minister Arun Jaitley not only shared a stage together, but promised to inculcate “greater cooperative federalism”.
The inaugural business summit witnessed unprecedented on-stage display of mutual cooperation and respect, leaving behind the harsh political reality of the two parties – Trinamool Congress and the BJP — being sworn enemies on national political stage.
As host, the tone of the day’s meeting was set by Mamata Banerjee who in her opening address said: “Political differences will not block the road to development. Arun Jaitleyji is here to guide us, to give his advice. In a federal structure, a strong center and a strong state can only complement each other. If a state is strong, the Centre will also be strong.”
And possibly referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise for “Good Governance” Mamata Banerjee said: “Good governance means good response, Good Governance is good dedication and Good Governance is good determination between the two sides. Good Governance is to have good industrial captains.”
In her concluding words to the industry as well as to the assembled guests, Bengal CM said: “Let us work together. Your presence touches us. I want to work as a sister, not as a chief minister. I want to work as a worker ( reminiscent of Modi’s Pradhan Sevak not Prime Minister slogan) in Bengal’s industrial rejuvenation and with your presence and help I can surely say: ‘Yes, We can’.”
Arun Jaitley on his part combined his speech with a clever mix of praise and criticism, but responded quite robustly to the Bengal chief minister’s call for federal cooperation. The union finance minister said: “The aspirational India is growing fast. The central government strongly stands behind the states for any effort in meeting these aspirations. Honourable chief minister, you have a mandate to rule in this state, we have a mandate to rule in Delhi. You have a promise to fulfill here. We have a promise to fulfill, too. And India will remain a strong federation with cooperation of the center and the states. In all areas that the state wants to prosper, the center will support.”
But Jaitley reminded that like cooperative federalism that one is talking about, in present day India there is more and more of competitive federalism too. States are competing with each other. Investors will naturally move to those whoever offers the best. But as far as the present government at the Centre is concerned, Jaitley reminded that the prime minister has pointed out that the eastern part of India will get more attention than the western parts. And West Bengal’s strategic location should yield huge benefits out of this policy.
If Mamata Banerjee confined her role in extending an olive branch to the visiting BJP ministers — Nitin Gadkari, union transport and infrastructure minister, attended the second session of the meet and, as Jailtely pointed out, is ready to offer some of the most glorious highways for the state — the state finance minister Dr. Amit Mitra did not let go the opportunity for intermittent verbal barbs and sniper attacks on Jaitely, reminding him that West Bengal had to do with a massive cut of Rs 28,000 crores in debt servicing as a fall out of the legacy of a past government.
Dr Mitra demanding a moratorium on this debt repayment rolled out statistics to show how the industrial growth index for West Bengal was nearly double than the national index. So was the agricultural production index and capital expenditure growth rates for the state.
Jailtely politely returned Mitra’s charges and punctured some of his optimism saying that West Bengal has to excel in manufacturing if it was to overcome its industrial stagnation. He also pointed out that profitability would be the most crucial factor in deciding where the investment flows.
At the end, Arun Jaitley , announced a number of steps to boost the state’s economic health.
First, he said that Bengal as a coal producing state will hugely gain and get a share of the auction of coal blocks.
On implementation of GST, the Centre will ensure that not a single state lost a single rupee in revenue as a sequence. One installment of compensation will be released soon, said Jaitley.
Jaitley added that there will be greater empowerment of states in terms of centrally sponsored schemes. CMs will be part of the NITI Ayog and have greater say in deciding the schemes for their states and the funding.
The announcements were received with an applause from both Mamata Banerjee and Dr Amit Mitra.