Their parties may be bitter rivals on the national stage, but West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley did not show any glimpse of that as they shared the stage in the inaugural session of the Global Bengal Business Summit on Wednesday. The two leaders not only displayed mutual respect but also promised cooperation for the development of the state.
As the host, the tone of the day’s meeting was set by Mamata, 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 Centre and a strong state can only complement each other. If a state is strong, the Centre will be strong.”
Possibly referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise of “good governance”, the chief minister said: “Good governance means good response, good governance is good dedication and good governance is good determination (of the two sides). Good governance is to have good industrial captains.”
In her concluding words to the industry and guests, she 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’.”
In his speech, Finance Minister Jaitley responded quite robustly to the Bengal chief minister’s call for federal cooperation. He 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 fulfil here. We have a promise to fulfil too. And India will remain a strong federation with cooperation of the Centre and the states. In all areas that the state wants to prosper, the Centre will support,” Jaitley said.
But he reminded that like cooperative federalism that one is talking about, in present day India there is more of competitive federalism too. States are competing with each other. Investors will move to those who offer the best. But as far as the present government at the Centre is concerned, Jaitley said, the Prime Minister has pointed out that the eastern parts of India will get more attention than the western parts. And West Bengal’s strategic location should yield huge benefits out of this policy, he said.
If Mamata confined her role in extending an olive branch to the visiting BJP ministers — Transport and Infrastructure Minister Nitin Gadkari attended the second session of the meet and was ready to offer the best highways for the state — state Finance Minister Amit Mitra did not let go the opportunity for intermittent verbal barbs on Jaitley, reminding him that West Bengal had to do with a massive cut of Rs 28,000 crore in debt servicing as a fallout of the legacy of a past government.
Mitra demanded a moratorium on this debt repayment and rolled out statistics to show how the industrial growth index for West Bengal was nearly double than the national index. So were the agricultural production index and capital expenditure growth rates for the state.
Jaitley 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.
FINANCE Minister Jaitley announced a number of steps to boost the state’s economic health. He said Bengal as a coal-producing state will gain hugely and get a share of the auction of coal blocks.
ON implementation of GST, he said the Centre will ensure that not a single state loses revenue. One installment of compensation will be released soon.
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.
BOTH Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and state Finance Minister Amit Mitra applauded the announcements.
– SUBRATA NAGCHOUDHURY