Why is West Bengal a poor state

The enterprising communists of West Bengal

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Prime Minister and Head of the CPI (M) (r.)

Calcutta - for many people this is still a synonym for poverty. Probably no metropolis had a worse reputation worldwide for many years. Above all, slums and Mother Teresa are associated in Germany with the capital of West Bengal, which, with 15 million people, is one of India's three megacities alongside Delhi and Mumbai (Bombay). What is less well known is that Calcutta is considered a stronghold of culture. And traditionally, the region around Calcutta in eastern India was also the center of industry. In the 1990s, when the Indian economic boom took off, the south with cities such as Bangalore or the west around Bombay benefited in particular.

Pragmatic and serious

The East is now catching up quickly. After years of stagnation, West Bengal is the union state with the second highest economic growth in India. Lufthansa will soon be flying to Calcutta, and the VDMA (German Engineering Federation) has set up its India office there. Rajesh Nath heads the India branch of the VDMA. He believes that Calcutta's bad image was not justified in the past. There is also mass poverty in Mumbai. "When you get there at the airport - you can see the slums before you land. But in Mumbai this issue has never been raised so strongly," says Nath. "Unfortunately Calcutta always has a somewhat negative image in the press. And the government is struggling hard to change this image."

The communist prime minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is considered to be very business-friendly, with integrity and an efficient administrator. For almost 30 years, West Bengal has been ruled by communists without interruption, and the left-wing coalition is also in the favorite position in the state elections that are taking place in these weeks. Rajesh Nath describes the prime minister as a very pragmatic and serious politician. "I think more often you will find the politicians who do not approach the problems and try to suppress the problems," says Nath. "But he is very honest in this regard, says: 'Yes, there are problems, but we are doing what we can do better on the government side.'"

Land reform and liberal economic policy

Today the communists combine land reforms and programs for village development with liberal industrial policy. West Bengal has long been famous for its unions on strike, but those days are over. The entrepreneur Rakesh Shah has four factories in Calcutta and no problems with the unions. For him, the location advantages compared to the state of Maharashtra around Bombay are decisive. West Bengal has an electricity surplus, while Maharashtra has a shortage of electricity. "If someone invests there, they also have to invest in generators in case the power goes out," says Shah. "Then the cost of living: if someone settles in Bombay, their office devours more than in Tokyo. Land is much cheaper in West Bengal."

Labor costs are also significantly lower in West Bengal than in West or South India. And finally, the proximity to raw materials such as coal and to the markets in East Asia is another advantage. Sabyasachi Sen is a senior official in the state government of West Bengal. He points out that in West Bengal, as in India as a whole, the service sector now accounts for more than half of the country's economic power. But efforts are being made to change that again: industrial development is more sustainable and creates more jobs.

German investors should also contribute. A number of German companies are already in West Bengal, and the Indians are currently advertising more in Lower Saxony. "I am thinking of VW, they are looking closely at India and different locations," says Sen. "You can see that the Indian market is now ripe for a car like the Golf. So we have to hurry and win them over quickly . "