September 6th, 2012
01:00 PM GMT
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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.

Filed under: Along the silk roadBusiness

soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Imtiaz

    India country of dreams and amazing food ...

    and haters can suck my SHLONG :)

    September 6, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  2. Manoj

    Nothing will change until Bengal voters demand results, not just rhetoric, and expect one another to sacrifice narrow political interests for the common economic interest.

    September 6, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  3. Spencer

    There is so much dirt, ignorance and poverty in India that it would take 5 generations to clean up.
    And indians that walk barefoot so as not to crunch the cokroaches underfoot, but mutilate their children and send them out to beg are not the people that can do that.
    Pity, they are good people, but have not been blessed for a better life, yet.

    September 6, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  4. @Spencer

    Yes not been blessed, since the first multinational company with it's own private army called East India Company could pose as traders, and later looted anything & everything systematically and oppressed Indians for almost 300 years with their cunningness, and created few holiday hotspot for themselves & their officers to be called as legacy of british raj today. What a misery we had for almost 300 years...

    September 6, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
  5. Spencer

    Other peoples were oppressed as well and when they gained independence they did not waste their time in petty politics but went to work and built, created and did what they had to and are now relatively ok.
    The crisis in India is yet to come and it will be ugly, very ugly.
    1.1 billion and growing and nearly 800 million poor.
    No infrastructure, poor roads, poor electricity gid, railways that defy human comprehension, no sanitation.
    The perfect breeding ground for extremism.
    Sad, very sad.

    September 6, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
  6. john

    But they are lovely people, full of religious fervor

    September 6, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  7. @Spencer

    Just don't imagine things my friend, Country so big , so diverse with second biggest population is tough to understand to few pea brains. I have seen nothing but improvement in living standard of people every year. But you can go ahead with your "ugly disastor" dream...

    September 6, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
  8. Indian

    @Spencer,you are right that after independence little has changed in India.This is because India's independence was a farce.There was transfer of power from British to their agents in form of Congress,under the terms of which Indian nationalists and patriots have been subdued and tortured by the tyrant Congress Govt.The Govt acting as agents have been looting the country and have kept the people purposely impoverished.They still continue with the archiac colonial laws that were used by the British for torture of an enslaved race.Can you imagine that this tyrant Govt had tried its best to get Indians forget their redeemer and the person solely responsible for getting British quit India.-Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.

    September 6, 2012 at 10:17 pm |

    There is too much negativism in the comments so far! Kolkata is a beautiful city, and it is time that improvements are made. The new malls are most impressive. The tram system needs to be doubled and NEW trams provided, like those in Budapest, Vienna, Zurich, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Munich, Gotenborg, Milan and many other European cities. Tram improvements alone would make a vast difference!

    September 7, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  10. Amit B

    I am from the city of Kolkata and live outside and visit occasionally. Like me, many many people left the city and their home to peruse better life outside. There is no reason to support previous government as they bring down Kolkata and the state to it's lowest level in history. But I strongly feel that nothing much have changed, except the people in power. The means to gain and retain power have NOT changed. No Administrative efficiency. But we hope things change.

    September 7, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  11. Drinking Coca cola.

    India is cool. Free countries will always win in the end.

    September 8, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  12. Hari

    Whatever happens, India will shine one day..-Jai Hind

    September 16, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
  13. ahmed

    Stronger online games full, free
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    September 17, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
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    I apologise, but, in my opinion, you are not right. I suggest it to discuss. Write to me in PM, we will communicate.

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    September 20, 2012 at 2:17 am |
  15. Auth

    delhi te bangla khoobr kom dame ashate dekhchi sob bangali der e pochondo, khelar khoobr o kolkata news sotti bhalo, sakalbela jeno aro delhir bangalir mone dhore.subecha roilo

    November 5, 2012 at 6:55 am |
  16. ?????

    Kolkata makes way for a comeback – Business 360 – Blogs ?????

    November 30, 2013 at 11:30 am |

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