West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at the Bengal Global Business Summit. (Press Trust of India)
"Forget the past, look towards tomorrow. I apologise for the past. I am sorry." When Mamata Banerjee said this at the concluding speech of a summit designed to attract global investors, a twitter of speculation went around at the venue. What did she apologise for?
But in less than an hour, the West Bengal Chief Minister clarified at a press conference that she had apologized for the financial indiscipline of the Left government that she replaced and nothing more.
"I apologise for the past because of financial indiscipline... Central government took away 21,000 crores in my first year as debt... and 25,000 crores last year. This year they will take 28,000 crore. If they take away all my money because of the earlier government, how can I work for the people?" she asked.
In her speech, Mamata Banerjee also appealed to companies to come to Bengal. She said she cannot give them Special Economic Zones with special industry-friendly business and trade laws because of "political compulsions", but she would try very hard to get them tax breaks from the Centre.
The chief minister has announced that the state has received MoUs and Expression of Interest (EOI) worth over two lakh forty thousand crore rupees. "This is marvelous. I touch your feet. I salute you," she told the gathering of industrialists from across the world.
Asked how much of these MOUs would turn into real investments, state finance minister Dr Amit Mitra said, "These are all on paper sanctioned by the government. That's why the optimism. All of it will fructify."
In 2007-08, when she was in the opposition, Ms Banerjee and her party led a massive and often violent agitation against the plans of Tata Motors to manufacture its Nano car in her state, alleging that farmers were being cheated in favour of big business. The plant was relocated to Gujarat, and the episode was seen as a prime example of Ms Banerjee's resistance to industry.