Relax Mamata, little to compare

Lucknow, Jan. 27: Chief minister Mamata Banerjee hates comparisons when it comes to business meetings. So, it should come as a relief to her that chief minister Akhilesh Yadav did not make any mention of Calcutta when he showcased in Agra a summit that Mamata's capital was supposed to host.

The CII Partnership Summit 2013, which was shifted from Calcutta after Mamata's outburst on FDI in retail made the Centre think twice about making the chief minister the host of foreign delegates, started in Agra today.

Akhilesh did not give Union commerce minister Anand Sharma, considered the prime mover behind the shift, cause for regretting the decision to change the venue.

The young chief minister did promise all help to industry ' as all chief ministers do these days. But even when Akhilesh sought to strike a balance between industry and agriculture, he laid stress on a factor few politicians pursue: the need to raise the incomes of farmers.

Like Mamata's, Akhilesh's party too is opposed to FDI in multi-brand retail. But unlike Mamata, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister has taken care to steer clear of extreme positions that offer little room for manoeuvre.

Akhilesh, who did not desist from saying that the benefits of growth were not trickling to the poor, told the gathering today: "Till we diversify sources of farmer's incomes and till we reduce their dependence on the vagaries of nature, they will not be able to share in the economic gains."

One of the promised spin-offs of FDI in retail is better prices and facilities for farmers that should increase their incomes.

Akhilesh took care not to make a song and dance about it but promised to try to make changes in a state that virtually fell off the industrial growth map following recurring socio-economic and political turmoil ' something Bengal is not unfamiliar with.

"I am in the process of making fundamental changes to the economic structure of the state. It is still an untapped state industrially," Akhilesh said.

The problems of both Uttar Pradesh and Bengal are too deep to be papered over by a business summit or two.

But the ongoing summit offered a chance to tell a story to the world. Business representatives from as many as 40 countries are now in Agra to take part in the three-day meeting.

A comparison ' or contrast ' is unavoidable here. At the recent Bengal Leads in Haldia, delegates from not more than two foreign countries ' Singapore and Russia ' were seen.

In Agra, besides the 400 delegates from 48 countries, over 800 representatives from various domestic companies in India are participating.

The Bengal government is certain to pooh-pooh such numbers. But the government has realised how difficult it is to persuade business groups to attend road shows. The Mamata government's prudent decision to postpone a Mumbai event ' in the undeclared absence of commitment from any noted industrialist to attend ' is a case in point.

Chandrajit Banerjee, the CII director-general, told reporters in Agra the summit got "shifted to this city because of circumstances not under our control". "The CII is happy to be here in Agra while Kolkata would have made a great venue as well in terms of opportunities in the east," he added.

Kiron Chopra, a former chairman of the CII UP State Council, said: "What is loss to Kolkata is Agra's gain."

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