July 31, 2015
Bengal’s best foot forward with Mamata’s London trip
Didi’s London Trip
- Mamata Banerjee attended an interactive private dinner with UK investors
- Discussions focused on how to increase UK investment in West Bengal were held
- UK businessmen voiced their concerns about labour issues, urban development, speed of clearances and approvals
- MoUs were signed with the University of Cambridge, East Anglia and SOAS
The death of India’s much-loved former President APJ Abdul Kalam truncated West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s 4-day programme in London. As a mark of respect all public engagements were cancelled.
Mamata Banerjee left London last night, a day ahead of schedule as ‘the possibility of a cyclone’ hitting Bengal loomed.
22 MOU were signed, which covered four areas: industry, healthcare, education and smart cities.
The first day saw 250 people at the business seminar in the afternoon. It was an interactive discussion with the UK and West Bengal businesses asking and answering the questions that emerged.
Those present say businessmen from Bengal did a great job selling the state. Both business and the state government sent out the same positive message. Businessmen from the UK voiced their concerns about labour issues, urban development, speed of clearances and approvals. Their fears were brushed aside by businessmen from Bengal, who assured them that ‘bandhs’ or forced closures were now a thing of the past and this government was serious about business.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with UK Minister of State for Education Priti Patel
That evening, the event at the Foreign Office was also over-subscribed. The UK Minister of State for Education, Priti Patel, who had met Banerjee in 2013 when she visited Kolkata with the British Prime Minister David Cameron, welcomed her to London and offered continued partnership. The Chief Minister responded with a speech that drew applause, “London is the world’s financial capital, and West Bengal is the world’s human capital.”
One of those present at the meeting says, “It was very personal, showing her love of Bengal and her belief that the UK is the right partner, not least because we have such a strong shared cultural and historical connection.”
Wooing UK Investors
MoUs and other business documents between UK and Bengal were signed
Mamata Banerjee also attended an interactive private dinner with UK investors, hosted by Patricia Hewitt, Chair of the UK India Business Council. It gave the Chief Minister and select members of her team an opportunity to closely interact with UK investors. Banerjee had a proposition for each of the UK businesses that attended. A plan was drawn up to further develop these relationships.
Interestingly, a potential British investor was heard saying at the dinner that night, “Until today, West Bengal was not a priority area in India for us, but it is now.”
Kevin McCole, UK India Business Council’s Chief Operating Officer points out:
“Although the shortened programme meant there was only one full day of activity, it was a hugely impactful day. The Chief Minister, by bringing such a strong business delegation, has set the bar high for other Indian states looking to attract investors. And the highly interactive nature of the business conference – no speeches and no powerpoint – has redrawn the model for how these events are delivered. UK investors were impressed by her can-do attitude. They were also impressed by the message the Chief Minister gave in her speech at the evening event. It was full of passion, compassion, humility and humour.”
There was also a focused round table, led by the Industries Secretary and the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC), Managing Director on the mining and natural resources sector. Ten current and potential UK investors held a discussion, which focused on how to increase UK investment into the state. Among the subjects discussed, was the need to create a UK-WB public private partnership mining engineering training institute, another was modifications to the Government of India’s public procurement processes to make it more commercially viable for companies to set up in India to service the market.
MoUs with UK Universities
Exchanges on investment and other collaborations between United Kingdom and Bengal were held
On the education front too, there was a sense of satisfaction. MoUs were signed with the University of Cambridge, East Anglia and SOAS . Presidency University’s Vice Chancellor Anuradha Lohia was overwhelmed with the support she received from the state government, “Our CM would like to make Bengal an education hub and create a huge resource of skilled manpower.”
“Mamata di’s ability to connect with every member of the delegation was exemplary. She was constantly chatting with all of us during the flight, looking after everyone’s food and comfort while conducting her business. She is an amazing walker.She walked constantly at Kolkata and Delhi airports. She walked 10 to 12 kms every morning, often leaving her companions trailing far behind. Inexhaustible, full of affection, energetic and enthusiastic.”
Once she returns, the Chief Minister and her team will have to work doubly hard.
“The stage has now been set for more UK investments in Bengal. But it will require follow up by both parties, and we hope that a further delegation from West Bengal in the autumn will generate a strong return delegation to Kolkata for the investors summit in January.”
Bengal certainly seems to have put its best foot forward. Now it needs to take brisk steps and regain lost ground.
(The writer, Payal Mohanka, is a Kolkata-based senior journalist. The article was first published on The Quint, July 30, 2015)