In October 2012, when most western nations continued their hands-off policy towards Narendra Modi in the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat riots, Britain was the first to resume relations with the BJP leader. Others soon followed suit.
BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi addresses a public rally in Lakhimpur. (Shadab Raza/ HT photo)
Today, Britain’s political and diplomatic establishment is quietly pleased with that strategic decision, as the prospects of Modi forming the next government in New Delhi seem bright.
Britain can be expected to leverage this as the new government takes up a busy economic and infrastructure agenda.Soon after coming to power in May 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron committed his coalition government to forge a “new special relationship” with India, and followed it up with three visits to India as Britain grappled with an ailing economy.
That provided the context for subsequent lobbying and many closed-door meetings involving BJP supporters in Britain, British and Indian business leaders, and ministers and MPs with large Gujarati communities in their constituencies.
Since then, bonhomie and existing trade links between Britain and Gujarat have only increased — including a high-profile Gujarat Foundation Day in the House of Commons on May 1 — even as several groups continue to oppose Britain’s new approach towards Modi.
In December 2012, British high commissioner James Bevan had said: “Our belief that India will matter more in future, and that all of India matters, also played a part in our decision to change our policy on Gujarat.”
A month later, Bevan remarked at the Vibrant Gujarat meeting in Ahmedabad: “The city of Leicester (with a large Gujarati diaspora) is the city where I was born. So I feel… that I too am in some way a son of Gujarat”.
In March 2013, Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire met Modi in Ahmedabad to sign a 20-year deal to supply liquefied natural gas to Gujarat.
A Foreign Office spokesperson on Tuesday reiterated its earlier comment to HT: “We are committed to a strong bilateral relationship with India, and that includes welcoming the Indian PM here for bilateral meetings”.
Leicester-based Uday Dholakia, chairman of the Indo-British Trade Council, said: “Under Narendra bhai’s stewardship, we have seen a base line confidence amongst British SMEs to explore business with Gujarat”.