The India Cables

West Bengal's pro-business Chief Minister reaches out

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee expresses his desire for greater U.S. investment in the State

West Bengal Chief Minister and Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee expressed his support for globalisation, economic liberalisation and United States investment in the State during an October 2007 meeting with U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson in Kolkata, a U.S. diplomatic cable shows.

The astute Mr. Paulson, seeing that Mr. Bhattacharjee was “clearly…receptive to engagement with the US,” took the opportunity to dismiss his own advisers and engage him in a one-on-one discussion on the Indo-U.S. civil nuclear deal, the contents of which were not in the cable.

These revelations come from the unclassified official cable [ > 128590: sensitive] sent under the name of U.S. Consul General in Kolkata Henry V. Jardine on November 4, 2007. It was cleared by staff from Mr. Paulson's office, the U.S. equivalent of the Union Ministry of Finance.

“Communist parties are changing,” and have recognised that “there must be economic liberalisation,” Mr. Bhattacharjee was quoted as having said after welcoming Mr. Paulson. And, globalisation, he believed, was changing the global economic dynamic, so much so that Communists had to “reform or perish.”

West Bengal needed more manufacturing in the State, said Mr. Bhattacharjee, and he advocated more investment from large U.S. companies such as Boeing and Dow Chemical. According to the cable, the Chief Minister had already been in touch with Boeing to suggest a maintenance facility in eastern India. When Mr. Paulson raised Dow's legal legacy issue in Bhopal as a barrier to further U.S. investment, Mr. Bhattacharjee responded by welcoming Dow to invest in the State's chemical hub.

The State also wanted closer links with U.S. universities, Mr. Bhattacharjee explained. West Bengal Finance Minister Dr. Asim Dasgupta, a graduate and former Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), “was fostering collaboration between the MIT, Calcutta University and the Indian Statistical Institute,” he added. The Chief Minister himself was in contact with Berkeley University in the U.S. “to develop cooperation in biotechnology,” the cable reported.

Asked for his views on the World Trade Organisation's Doha round of negotiations, the Chief Minister was cautious but positive.

“Bhattacharjee…believed the U.S. and India should be able to achieve some understanding on the Doha negotiations,” the cable reported. “He felt that U.S. subsidies to cotton farmers were unfair and had a very negative impact on farmers in developing countries...India was experiencing very low growth in its agricultural sector and seeing many farmer suicides, so agriculture represented a serious concern.” But, the cable said, the Chief Minister “did not believe that the Doha round should remain deadlocked over agriculture and that India could be flexible.”

Such positive expressions of support clearly left Mr. Paulson keen to explore further, because at the end of the meeting he dismissed his staff and Consulate officials to talk privately with the Chief Minister. Though the contents of that conversation have not been divulged, Mr. Paulson later told the media he had discussed with Mr. Bhattacharjee the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal.

The Chief Minister was “demonstrably animated and happy to meet with Secretary Paulson” in Kolkata, the cable concluded.

“Bhattacharjee's receptivity to closer commercial and educational links with the U.S. is reflective of his more practical desire to improve conditions in West Bengal,” the cable summarised.

But, it lamented: “His ideological flexibility and that of some of the West Bengal Communist leadership has not resulted in the West Bengal leaders being able to temper the national CPM leadership in its hard-line opposition to the U.S. and to growing Indo-U.S. cooperation.”

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via WikiLeaks .)

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 6:07:11 AM |

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