Mamata’s London visit described as ‘ill-timed’

London (IANS/RAY) With just five days to go before West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee arrives here leading a 66-member delegation on a four-day visit to draw investment to her financially-depleted state, not a single British cabinet minister, let alone Prime Minister David Cameron, may have time to meet her.

Cameron is supposed to be in the Far East during Banerjee’s trip, while Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Business Secretary Sajid Javid, a counterpart of Indian commerce and industry minister, are also unavailable.

Even Hugo Swire, the minister of state at Britain’s Foreign Office, at whose official invitation Banerjee is scheduled to undertake her sojourn in the British capital, will be unable to receive her.

A diplomatic source described her visit to RAY as “ill-timed”. The British parliament goes into its summer recess on Friday, when most ministers and MPs will either proceed on an overseas tour or on a vacation.

The only politician meeting Banerjee here will be Priti Patel, Britain’s minister of state for employment and of Indian origin.

In fact, Banerjee’s proposed get-together with the Indo-British All Party Parliamentary Group too is uncertain because of fears of a poor attendance, and may be cancelled in favour of a function at the London Business School.

However, Adam Pollard, spokesman for the UK India Business Council (UKIBC), which on July 27 is jointly hosting a seminar with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), said the UKIBC “is delighted to be supporting the British government and the government of West Bengal and will give all possible assistance to the Chief Minister (Mamata Banerjee) in order to support her visit’s objectives”.

“We very much hope to help take forward Bengal-UK business ties and people to people partnerships,” he said.

The UKIBC seminar will cover investment opportunities in West Bengal.

Recently, the UKIBC with UK Trade & Industry, an agency of the British government, published a detailed report entitled “West Bengal Urban Regeneration and Development”, which examines possibilities from Kolkata to Santiniketan.

This together with areas such as education and health are anticipated to be subjects of collaboration between London and Kolkata.

The Indian High Commission in Britain expressed optimism about cooperation between Britain and West Bengal.

Banerjee, though, according to a tentative programme, is not expected to attend the UKIBC seminar and West Bengal’s Finance Minister Amit Mitra is slated to represent the state government at this meet.

The chief minister is expected to commence her engagements on July 27 afternoon by attending a reception for her at the Buckingham Palace, the London residence of Queen Elizabeth II, hosted by Prince Andrew, younger brother of Prince Charles, the heir to the throne.

That will be followed by a meeting with Patel and signing of memoranda of agreement at the Foreign Office.

Other items in Banerjee’s itinerary include a round table conference at the Asia House and paying floral tributes at statues of Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi.

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