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London calling Mamata

- Team Cameron keen to host CM after successful visit

The British government is very keen for Mamata Banerjee to visit London, The Telegraph has learnt from reliable Whitehall sources.

“The Prime Minister had a brief but very successful trip to Calcutta and we would now like to follow up.... We are a little anxious about land acquisition which would be needed for investment in big industrial projects but there are many other things on which Britain and West Bengal could collaborate — the environment, education, cleaning up the Ganges, the riverside development, cultural exchanges and so on,” said the head of a key Whitehall department. “Since she has said she would like to make Calcutta more like London, we would like her to come and see London.”

The fact is that David Cameron and other members of the British team who met Mamata during their whirlwind trip to Calcutta on November 14 have returned with a positive impression of the Bengal chief minister.

“She is quite a lady, actually,” was the comment from another source — Priti Patel, a Tory MP who remained close by Cameron’s side right through the time he spent in Delhi and in Calcutta. “There is no doubt about it, she was dynamic, she really was a tour de force,” said Priti, appointed “Diaspora Champion” by Cameron, giving The Telegraph a blow-by-blow account of the prime minister’s passage through Calcutta.

Two words kept being repeated — “incredible” and “amazing”. “She was incredibly welcoming, I have to say,” said Priti, “Really warm and engaging.... She has a vision and she is animated about it as well.”

Mamata, flanked by her finance minister, Amit Mitra, conversed with Cameron, who had Priti by his side. She was also with Cameron when he visited India in February this year.

As to whether something concrete will emerge from the talks, Priti offered this opinion: “Without a doubt — because our high commissioner was there as well (so he can follow up). It was a constructive conversation because she was very good at outlining some of her thoughts and her vision for what she wants to do in terms of the state. And she was very clear as well in terms of basically asking for support from us — expertise, knowhow...”

In his recent interview to The Telegraph, British deputy high commissioner in Calcutta Scott Furssedonn-Wood had said: “The Prime Minister was very struck by the chief minister’s passion and her energy.... It was a great visit that gave a very clear message that the UK is very serious about the relationship that we want to have here, that we are open to business, that we want to engage in any way that we can. It has sort of given a pretty clear list of things that I need to do and things that I need to follow up.”

Priti senses that Calcutta “is the most British place in India — maybe Calcutta is the place (for British investors) to home in on”.

Calcuttans may be heartened to learn that Cameron and his entourage found it to be an architecturally stunning city. On his way to give interviews at All India Radio, it was the PM who stopped his cavalcade and decided to stretch his legs by Howrah Bridge.

“Part of it was for him to, at least, get out and see some of the architecture; the buildings are incredible. The bridge alone is just amazing,” Priti noted. “(We saw) Victoria Memorial, the (Dalhousie) Square as well, the Writers’ Buildings, just incredible buildings.”

Cameron did an interactive session at IIM Calcutta, with its “lovely campus” and its “very impressive group of students — the future leaders of tomorrow without a doubt”, said Priti.

The two trips have allowed Priti, 41, born in Britain of Indian parents who came from Uganda, to get to know her Prime Minister better. “He is interested in people, cultures, India as well — well, it (India) is quite personal to him. You know the commitment that he is making to India, to putting out the hand of friendship.”

Mamata gifted the Prime Minister’s team one of her paintings and seven days later the British deputy high commissioner was there when she painted a Ganesha canvas at the unveiling of The Lalit Great Eastern. “It was a remarkable thing to stand and watch,” Furssedonn-Wood later said.

And now, the British rather hope she will find time to bring her brush and paint box to London.