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A decade after riots,Britain warms to Narendra Modi

The UK had been among the leaders of the international criticism of the Modi govt.

Written by Shubhajit Roy
New Delhi | October 11, 2012 9:41:57 pm

The British government Thursday asked its high commissioner in India,James Bevan,to visit Gujarat and meet Chief Minister Narendra Modi,London’s first political contact with the state government since the riots of 2002.

The UK had been among the leaders of the international criticism of the Modi government after the riots. Three British high commissioners who served in New Delhi over the past 10 years did not engage with the state.

British Foreign Office minister in-charge of India,Hugo Swire,said in London,“I have asked the British high commissioner in New Delhi to visit Gujarat and to meet the chief minister and other senior figures in the state.

“This will allow us to discuss a wide range of issues of mutual interest and to explore opportunities for closer cooperation,in line with the British government’s stated objective of improving bilateral relations with India.”

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In the evening,Modi tweeted,“Der Aaye Durasta Aaye!! I welcome UK Govt’s step for active engagement & strengthening relations with Guj. God is Great”,and “Getting many messages of pride & joy from Indian diaspora,especially Gujaratis in London & all over the world. Thanks for your affection!”

Sources in the British High Commission told The Indian Express that London had been actively thinking about changing its position on the Modi government in the “last three months”,and that the change of stance had been guided by three main factors.

First,London wanted to “widen and deepen” its relationship across Indian states,and had to find a way to tackle the “exceptional situation” in regard to Gujarat.

Second,the UK was attracted to “dynamic and thriving” opportunities in Gujarat,including potential in “business”,“science” and “education”. But it could not have hoped to make progress without contact with the administration at the highest levels.

Third,the government in London had noted that the Indian judicial system had made “progress” in Gujarat riots cases,with about 200 convictions in lower courts.

Swire referred to the riots: “We want to secure justice for the families of the British nationals who were killed in 2002. We want to support human rights and good governance in the state.”

Of the over 1,000 people,mostly Muslims,killed in the riots,three were British citizens.

The UK,Swire said,wanted to provide the “best possible support” for British nationals who live in,work in or visit Gujarat,and to the many Gujaratis who “now make up one of the most successful and dynamic communities in the UK”. The British government was committed to strengthening relations with India,and wanted to provide a “full and consistent” range of services across the country,Swire said.

“I feel that active engagement will help further these interests. We will consider in the light of the high commissioner’s visit how best to take forward our relationship with Gujarat,” the minister said. Sources said London was looking forward to a meeting “as soon as possible”,perhaps over the next month.

Gujarat minister of state for industry and mines and goverment spokesperson,Saurabh Patel,said “We warmly welcome the British government’s announcement to engage more and strengthen ties with Gujarat. This is because of Gujarat’s extraordinary progress in the last ten years under CM’s leadership. We have earned the confidence of investors across the world. We will ensure that all projects from the UK in the state will be put on the fast track,and increase ties with the UK and their people in all areas.”

Patel declined to comment on whether Modi would apply for a visa to visit the UK.

While the UK snapped political ties with Gujarat in the aftermath of the 2002 riots,it kept a small trade office,visa application centre and a British Council library open in the state. Modi had visited the UK the year after the riots,but had confined himself largely to Wembley,home to a large Gujarati diaspora.

In 2003,the US denied Modi a visa,and in 2005,the UK said no to a diplomatic visa after human rights groups made a determined attempt to get an arrest warrant against him.

The three British citizens,all Muslims,were killed on a highway near Prantij in Sabarkantha district on February 28,2002,while returning to their village Lajpur near Navsari after a visit to Agra and Jaipur.

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