September 6th, 2012
01:00 PM GMT
Kolkata, India (CNN) - It used to be the jewel in the crown of the British Empire - a beautiful colonial city in India's east.
Its strategic waterfront location made Calcutta a crucial trading hub. But in recent years, the city - left out of India's growth story - has become a shadow of its past, overtaken by business friendly cities like Mumbai and Bangalore.
Now, there is a determined effort to revive the city and make this former trading center a modern day business hub.
Developed on the banks of the River Hooghly, the port city was an important trading hub during the early 20th century, when the British ruled India.
In 1947, India gained independence in what was a new beginning for the country, but a period of decline for Calcutta, which suffered from rampant poverty and economic stagnation.
The city is now experiencing a rebirth.
Derek O’Brien of the All India Trinamool Congress is part of the state government that was elected to power last year. One of its priorities – a facelift for the city that’s now called Kolkata.
O’Brien insists there’s more happening below the surface. For example, there are more jobs. As part of the clean-up he says the government has employed 18,000 people to sweep the streets everyday.
“We all want to see Calcutta retain its lost glory!” he told CNN’s Mallika Kapur.
Industrialist Harsh Neotia is also playing a key role in the rebirth of the city. He’s in the real estate business – he’s built malls, hotels, residential towers and a state-of-the-art business park in Rajarhat, a suburb.
Neotia said he is giving people what they want.
“An average Kolkatan today is no different from an average person from Bombay, Delhi or Bangalore. And it's those aspirations of the young people that is driving a lot of the change that is happening.“
There are signs of that just outside his office. New towers, business parks and technology campuses are transforming a sleepy neighborhood into a commercial hub.
Also underway is a cultural revival. Construction is about to start on a landmark project, India’s answer to the Tate Modern in London –- the Kolkata Museum of Modern Art. It will host galleries, artists’ residences, an amphitheatre, and a sculpture garden.
Raki Sarkar of the Kolkata Museum of Modern Art said: “Very few institutes around the world would match with the agenda we have for this. I see very few institutes in Asia, the only institute I can reckon is the Paul Getty museum in California so this has a lot of potential and it will make Kolkata into a cultural hub of the country.”
The biggest change in Kolkata in recent times has been a change in government. Last year, locals elected the Trinamool Congress party to power, ending 34 years of communist rule.
But a change in regime doesn’t mean a change on the ground, cautions Ravindra Kumar, the editor of the Statesman newspaper, one of the oldest dailies in Kolkata
“People have this romantic notion that just because there's change in regime, there will be a change in lives, there will be a change in lifestyles, there will be wholesale sweeping changes and that suddenly the heavens will open up and the road to Shangri la will be clear – I don't think that's going to happen,” said Kumar.
He said that will take time to happen because there is a lot of work to be done – West Bengal needs to cut down its massive debt, lure big businesses to invest in the state and update its crumbling infrastructure.
“Far be it for me to advise government," laughed Kumar, “But I think the first thing is to show a sincere resolve to address ground issues. What would that mean? It would mean an improvement in the living conditions of people, a general feeling of safety.”
And that's something that may go beyond the resurgence that Kolkata is seeing on the streets - change that goes below the surface.
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