In the wake of the turmoil triggered by the killing of Burhan Wani, British MP Bob Blackman tells HT in an email interview that Jammu and Kashmir must be reunited with India.
The Conservative MP, re-elected as chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for British Hindus, is also associated with the overseas arm of the RSS — the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) — in the UK.
Q You are known as India’s friend in the British parliament, but off late you are seen as a Hindu voice.
Forty percent of my constituents come from Gujarat and an overwhelming majority of my constituents are Hindus, and I speak on their behalf in the parliament. My interest in the Indian diaspora and their causes goes back to my days as a councillor and as leader of the council in Brent.
Q You have said in the past that Kashmir is an integral part of India and liberation of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) is an issue that has to be solved. What do you think is a solution to the problem?
Pakistani forces illegally occupy a part of J&K. They should leave forthwith and the whole of J&K must be reunited with the rest of India as an integral part of it. Justice must be delivered for people uprooted from their homeland and efforts should be made to ensure that Kashmiri Pandits are able to return, should they wish to do so, with dignity, freedom and in a safe, prosperous environment. The Indian government should set up a minimum of two smart cities to encourage the internally displaced minorities, the Kashmiri Pandits, to restart their lives in the Valley. This, however, ought to be planned carefully so as not to become another Jagti camp or a Wandahama massacre.
Q PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Lahore was followed by the Pathankot attack. What do you make of India’s friendly overtures to Pakistan?
I applaud PM Modi’s efforts to reach out with a hand of friendship to the Pakistan government, upholding democracy and democratic functions of a nation state. I expect the Pakistani government and people will recognise it as a positive gesture.
Q The HSS has been under the scanner in the UK, but you have said there is a need to change perceptions about the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh. How long have you known about the HSS and what draws you to them?
I got to know about the HSS in 1989 and have known them for nearly 27 years now. It exists as an organisation that promotes education and discipline among young people. The HSS promotes community service and encourages people to take a full and active part in society.
Q Media reports suggest the upcoming HSS celebrations, which will be attended by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, are expected to draw a host of eminent personalities, including actor Leonardo Di Caprio. What do you make of this, is this a changed perception towards the HSS?
I welcome the increased interest among people in the work of HSS. I trust that this will lead to greater involvement across racial and religious divide.
Q Were you or your office at any stage involved in the planning of the mega event, which is touted as one of the biggest Hindu gatherings outside of India ?
Q How do you see India-UK relations developing post-Brexit?
This is a great opportunity for the UK and India to formulate trade deals, improve tourism and educational opportunities on a bilateral basis, build on the friendship and forge deeper relationship between the two countries. Everyone ought to realise that leaving the European Union opens up whole new opportunities not just for the two countries but for the world, including many European countries, to establish better linkages with the two nations. Already the Trade and Industry Minister is in India to open talks on a new trade deal. India has been struggling to make progress on a trade deal with the EU. I hope that a UK-India trade deal can be quickly concluded on the basis of the discussions that have taken place thus far. I also look forward to suitable arrangements being put in place to boost tourism between the UK and India with new arrangements for visitor visas for both countries.
Q How do you think India has fared in the two years under Modi? You earlier credited him for making Gujarat the economic powerhouse of India.
Clearly Prime Minister Modi is impatient for change. He is on course to deliver basic facilities for the people all over the country, especially electricity and other basic amenities. The economy is growing at a steady rate and this is a tremendous opportunity for people to gain from the economic benefits. One of his favourite projects, Make in India, is a great initiative and has boosted self-reliance as well as attracted investment in India. The culture of corruption has been visibly changed and has greatly reduced. PM Modi’s incredible energy and determination to visit many countries has improved India’s standing and its perception in the world. India truly is fast emerging as a global leader.
Q What do you make of the allegations that have been levelled against the Modi government ? The government has been accused of moral policing, imposing its choices. The decision to ban beef in several states particularly has been opposed.
The decisions taken by the state governments are their own and do not represent the Modi government’s views. I believe that the various policies, initiatives and schemes launched by PM Modi have benefitted all, irrespective of their religion or background.