Ten years after it snapped all official engagements with Narendra Modi in the aftermath of the 2002 communal violence, Britain Thursday signalled it was ready to do business with the Gujarat chief minister, who welcomed the move.
Hugo Swire, the new British minister in charge of India, said he had instructed his high commissioner in New Delhi, Sir James Bevan, to visit Gujarat and meet Modi and other senior figures.
Three Britons of Gujarati origin were killed on February 28, 2002 in the post-Godhra riots.
“Der aaye Durasta Aaye (better late than never) !! I welcome UK govt’s step of active engagement and strengthening relations with Gujarat. God is great,” Modi tweeted.
Finally, the UK had realised Gujarat's importance, the CM told a gathering at Pavagadh in central Gujarat concluding his month-long Swami Vivekanand Yatra. Europe, too, would go the UK way and the ties would be mutually beneficial, he said.
The UK's decision, which has come as a surprise for Modi -- whose international isolation is seen as an impediment to his national ambitions -- could see him being rehabilitated in the West.
British officials were banned from meeting Modi but were able to develop economic ties through business leaders and senior officials. But he had to give up travelling to the UK after 2005, when rights campaigners sought an arrest warrant against him for crimes against humanity.
The US, however, has an official visa ban on Modi since 2005 for "violations of religious freedom".
Swire said he was committed to securing justice for the families of British victims of the riots. "We want to support human rights and good governance in the state," he said.
But the turnaround disappointed the families. "We feel very upset - it's exactly how the family of Yvonne Fletcher (a British policewoman murdered by Libyan terrorists) felt when Labour government ministers went and met Col Gaddafi in Libya," Yusuf Dawood, whose brother Saeed was killed in the riots, told HT.
"And the timing is unfortunate - they should have waited until after the Gujarat elections." Modi will be seeking a third consecutive term in office when the state goes to the polls in December.
(With inputs from Delhi)