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Will China come to investment-starved Bengal’s rescue?

Kolkata: After hunting for investments in a rather futile way in Singapore and Britain, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee appears to have taken some interest in looking for money where it is available — China.

In October, China’s Zhontong announced plans for a bus making factory at Andal, the state’s upcoming hub in its industrial belt of Burdwan. The agreement was signed when Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao was in Kolkata on his way to Delhi. This was a significant visit signalling Chinese priorities.

The Chinese are keen to invest in the east, which explains their sustained interest in the Kolkata-Kunming or K2K Forum.

But while West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra took a team to the South Asian Expo in Kunming in July this year on an exploratory visit, his government is hardly taking any interest in the K2K summit that will be held in Kolkata on November 24-25.

Mitra’s visit to Kunming and Li Yuanchao’s to Kolkata seem to have got the Chinese working big time on the K2K.

“They are sending a very high-power delegation to the K2K this year. Yunnan’s deputy governor will lead the team and that will consist of several top CEOs of major Chinese companies,” K2K secretary general (India) Binoda Mishra told this correspondent.

Mishra says he has asked the West Bengal government and other states in the east and northeastern India to send their industry or commerce ministers and secretaries to the K2K summit to scout for possible Chinese investments or joint ventures.

“The scope for that is significant what with such a high-power delegation coming,” Mishra said. But so far no minister in the West Bengal government has confirmed presence.

When the K2K annual forum was held in Kolkata in 2013, then industry minister Partha Chatterjee and Governor M.K. Narayanan had addressed the forum but made no real effort to woo Chinese investments.

In 2014, when the K2K annual forum was held in Kunming, the West Bengal government did not send a minister or a secretary in the delegation. Manipur, however, is sending a big delegation as are some smaller northeastern states.

For a state with the kind of negative business image like West Bengal, China remains perhaps the only realistic source for investments and industrial joint ventures.

But, though Mamata Banerjee has been in power since 2011, it is only in July this year that she sent Finance and Industry minister Amit Mitra to China to scout for possible investment.

During the visit last month of the Chinese vice president, an invitation was extended to Mamata Banerjee to visit China, which she accepted.

As Bengal goes into election mode after Bihar, it is perhaps unlikely that Banerjee will visit China before the 2016 state elections.

“Her record in securing investments for Bengal has been very poor, not the least because she has not gone to the right places,” Bharatiya Janata Party’s minder for Bengal, Siddharth Nath Singh, said.

The BJP-ruled states like Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Gujarat have attracted Chinese investments worth billions of rupees. But Bengal has clearly failed to take advantage of China’s interest in investing in the state’s once famed manufacturing sector which still has potential but has languished for years.

( Subir Bhaumik, IANS)
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