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'There's more to it than meets the eye'
September, 11th 2008

Their sense of outrage is palpable. Over the West Bengal governments handling of the Singur crisis, and particularly on why the Tatas were kept out of the Raj Bhavan talks. But even more disturbing are some innuendos doing the rounds in top corporate circles.

Most tend to think the ruling Left Front government would be the biggest beneficiary if the Tatas indeed pull out from Singur, since it would enable the CPI-M to put the entire blame on Trinamool leader Mamata Banerjee, and in turn, score political brownie points to retain its principal vote-bank the farmers.

Which is also why they find it hard to accept that the Buddhadeb government went out of its way to accommodate all of Mamatas land-centric demands without anticipating, well in advance, that the Tatas would be alarmed by the contents of the agreement.

ET spoke to a cross-section of CEOs, executives and academics in Kolkata to get a fix on whether they felt last Sundays late night agreement was a deliberate act of bending backwards to accommodate Trinamools demands, so that the Tatas would be annoyed enough to call it a day at Singur, and thereby give them the opportunity to slam back fiercely at Mamata, blaming her for the loss of Singur?

Though the candour is evident, most corporate bigwigs were unwilling to come on record. One must concede that it is better to have CPI-M rule for the next five years than a Tata plant. It is obvious that there is more to it than meets the eye, a top industry source told.

Shree Cement managing director Hari Mohan Bangur said: This is an election year. Parties are looking at electoral gains and changing stand depending on factors not known to the public at large. A top industrialist with interests in tea and chemicals said: It appears each party wants to keep alive the land issue. While it is true that the government made a mistake in the land acquisition process, Mamata Banerjee is simply trying to impress the farmer to build her vote bank.

A senior official in a frontline IT firm felt all the political parties were just thinking of the vote bank and no one seemed genuinely concerned about the states progress or the Nano project. Its a pathetic situation.

If the Left Front government is playing vote-politics over the Nano project, it is extremely sad. The entire episode appears to have been strategically mishandled, a leading movie entrepreneur said.

An IIM-C student said: By putting the ball in the courts of both the Tatas and Mamata, the state government has jumped into the stands to watch the show now.

Others feel the Tatas should have been kept in the loop. A homegrown CEO with commitments in the states steel sector said: There will be a number of conspiracy theories, but ultimately, we will all get hurt in the process.

All I can say is that the Tatas should have been taken into confidence. A chartered accountant with a local firm added: The presence of Tata Motors representatives would have made the whole effort more meaningful.

A sense of cynicism also seems to have crept across corporate circles. The key players have become a laughing stock. They are mature enough to understand how important it is to sit down and talk. And yet, they have not done so and are instead playing selfish games, an industry honcho lamented.

Acclaris Business Solutions MD Kalyan Kar said: Political parties should at this stage put their differences behind and save the Nano project. While Srei Infrastructure vice chairman & managing director Hemant Kanoria felt: The whole issue has come to a stage that it needs to be brought to a logical conclusion before it batters West Bengals image any further.

Banking and financial circles had a similar take. A senior banker with a public sector bank said: Whats happening is unfortunate. We were all on a high after Sundays Raj Bhavan announcement. Now, it seems, everything has gone topsy-turvy.

However, Abhijit Bandyopadhyay, council member, ICAI (Institute of Chartered Accountants of India) is still hopeful: I dont think that the state government had a calculated agenda in mind. The Tatas too, I think, wont leave Singur. Their expressing unhappiness is probably a way to put pressure on the government and the Opposition to get things resolved at the earliest.

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