West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee did not have an entirely smooth sailing during her visit to London this week. All geared up to promote her state as a favourite investment destination for British companies, she was surprised to see protesters from the UK “Dharmic” (religious) community, with origins in Bengal, Gujarat, Punjab and Maharashtra, demonstrating against her alleged inaction regarding human trafficking, corruption and money laundering. They had gathered outside Asia House on New Cavendish Street on Wednesday, 29 July with placards and banners excoriating her for her inaction in the Tuktuki Mandal case, in which a young Hindu girl was allegedly abducted by a male member of another religion, and who later returned. The CM hurried past the protesters as she got out of a small silver car outside Asia House for a FICCI and KPMG hosted private briefing for Asia House members, including BAE Systems and Anglo American Mining PLC.
The vociferous protesters, led by Mukesh Naker and Minesh Patel, are concerned that Banerjee has concentrated on her own political career and future at the expense of 13,000 minor girls, who are being trafficked into slavery and prostitution every year. Additionally, the Dharmics are anxious about the exodus of Hindus from the border villages of the state. They are fearful that an extremist ideology is creeping into West Bengal.
The protesters, who represented UK’s “Dharmic” communities and 350 organisations comprising Hindus, Jains and Sikhs, also demonstrated near St James’ Court, the Taj hotel where Banerjee was staying and by the Gandhi Statue in Parliament Square. The protesters now plan to lobby the British businesses, who have signed MoUs with West Bengal, not to follow through with their investments if the situation in the state does not improve.
Banerjee enjoyed mixed blessings as she strode energetically around London in her trademark flip-flops. In between sight-seeing and meeting royalty and dignitaries, it is understood that she signed 21 MoUs. The Financial Times featured two full page advertisements promoting business in Bengal on consecutive days. Disappointingly for the Chief Minister, UK Prime Minister David Cameron was not available to meet her as he was occupied in Vietnam, promoting trade, political reform and action against slavery. A reception for Banerjee was held in the glamorous Locarno Suite at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The reception was not quite as hospitable as it first appeared to be, as sources say that the bill was forwarded to the West Bengal government as there was nothing in the FCO budget to cover the event.
The cocktail party and musical performance in honour of Banerjee at the Natural History Museum, to be hosted by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) could not take place because of the death of late President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.