Call it track-two politics or a platform for the future. When Rail Minister Mamata Banerjee met the nation’s top central bureaucrats in Delhi on Wednesday night, politics wasn’t high on the agenda.
But the Trinamool chief still ended up discussing disinvestments, culture and tourism in her home state.
With Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and the CPI (M) still smarting from electoral setbacks, his political adversary, some say the chief minister-in-waiting, utilised the opportunity to bat for West Bengal.
In a two-hour meeting held at the residence of Mukul Roy, MoS, shipping, Banerjee sought cooperation from more than 40 officers who were either Bengalis or from the Bengal cadre.
Apart from five secretaries — disinvestment, culture, tourism, PMO, telecommunications, petrochemicals — those present included officers of the finance commission and planning commission.
Banerjee, also the chief of the second largest constituent of the UPA government, is an opponent of the Centre’s disinvestment policy. The Centre has announced a decision to offload stakes in about 60 PSUs in the market.
“Save Bengal’s PSUs. Please don’t sell them off,” she told disinvestment secretary Sunil Mitra.
Mitra tried to assure her that there were no designs to sell off any PSU. The Centre only wanted to sell a part of the shares of some of these companies to raise much-needed money. He also told her how important these resources were for the government to meet targets for social sector programmes.
The projected fiscal deficit of the government for 2009-10 is 6.8 per cent of the gross domestic product, which has been termed unsustainable by the Finance Minister himself. Between April and October 2009, the fiscal deficit stood at Rs 1.978 trillion.
On paper, there are 35 central PSUs in Bengal. But apart from a few such as Coal India, Allahabad Bank and UCO Bank, most are in poor shape and are not in a position to tap the markets.
“What are you doing to save the (literary) heritage of Tagore and Nazrul Islam,” Banerjee asked culture secretary Jawhar Sircar.
“What can be done to promote tourism in Bengal?” was her question to tourism secretary Sujit Banerjee.
With the clamour building for Assembly elections in Bengal earlier than the scheduled 2011, Wednesday’s meeting has set off speculation in Bengal.
“See, how funds for education in Bengal are being misused,” was the closest that Banerjee came to discussing politics.
“It was a very fruitful meeting as the officials are all from Bengal cadre. We would hold such meetings regularly,” said Roy, the host.