Amit Mitra: Industry lobbyist to Bengal finance minister?

New Delhi/Kolkata, May 13 (IANS) He has rubbed shoulders with the top honchos of India Inc for 17 years. But high-profile industry lobbyist Amit Mitra seemed set for a new innings Friday - as member of the West Bengal assembly and possibly the state's new finance minister.

Mitra, who has for years lobbied for expediting reforms and defended the cause of corporate India, is now expected to head the state's finance ministry and handle its business environment in a manner not seen in the past 34 years of Communist rule.

Secretary general of industry body Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) since 1994, Mitra joined the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress in March.

He contested assembly elections from Khardaha constituency in North 24 Parganas, defeating the incumbent Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta by 26,154 votes.

''I want to be a part of the historic change in West Bengal,' he said soon after his win.

The 64-year-old Mitra's association with Banerjee grew stronger, when as railway minister she invited the industry veteran on board for drawing up business plans soon after taking over the portfolio in mid-2009.

The firebrand Bengal leader appointed Mitra as chairman of an expert committee set up to advise her ministry on innovative financing and implementation methods.

The success of the model brought the railways some well needed funds while also ensuring an election candidature ticket for Mitra.

Mitra has also talked of bringing in more private companies to the state and said corporate India would find Bengal a conducive investment destination under the Trinamool Congress regime.

Originally an academician, Mitra, taught at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi, before shifting base to the US, where he taught at Duke University and Franklin Marshall College in Pennsylvania for over a decade before returning to India to start his stint at FICCI.

Mitra is considered a learned figure in the Indian industry and sought for his opinion on a number of issues. He has been an advisor and a board member at some of the biggest names in corporate India such as SAIL, UTI and GAIL and multinational companies like Bata and Microsoft's Indian subsidiary.

He was also appointed to the board of beleaguered national carrier Air India to help the airline's management turnaround the loss-making company.

For his contribution to the Indian industry, the government bestowed the civilian award of Padma Shri on him, which was conferred by President Pratibha Patil in 2008.

Mitra holds a masters degree in economics from the Delhi School of Economics (DSE) and a doctorate degree in economics from Duke University, US in 1978.