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Michael Foot loved old India, backed the new

Former British Labour Party leader Michael Foot who has died in his London home at the age of 96 was a lifelong advocate of India, helping lay early strong foundations for the warmth that marks ties between the two countries today.

world Updated: Mar 05, 2010 02:09 IST

Former British Labour Party leader Michael Foot who has died in his London home at the age of 96 was a lifelong advocate of India, helping lay early strong foundations for the warmth that marks ties between the two countries today.

In Britain, Foot will always be remembered as the man who took Labour into more than two decades of political wilderness with unpopular socialist policies that failed to stem the rise of the Conservative Party led by Margaret Thatcher.

But in India — and among many people of Indian origin in Britain — Foot was seen as a vocal backer of the Congress party; a man who had cut his teeth early in Indian politics as a leading member of the London-based pro-independence group, the India League.

Inspired by Gandhi, Nehru and India League founder Krishna Menon, who later became India’s first high commissioner to Britain, Foot campaigned to educate ordinary Britons about India in the pre-independence years.

He supported Gandhian non-violence, Nehruvian policies of non-alignment and global nuclear disarmament, Indira Gandhi’s Emergency and later India’s position on Kashmir and ambition to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. he even supported the non-Congress governments. In 1999, Foot, a lifelong passionate campaigner for nuclear disarmament, blamed the West for India’s 1998 nuclear tests — at a time when the West had imposed sanctions on India for the tests.

In 1997, when British foreign secretary Robin Cook annoyed India by offering British mediation over Kashmir, Foot stepped in with his own unpublicised mediation by speaking to prime ministers Inderjit Gujral and Tony Blair.

But in spite of his advanced years there’s one date he never missed: October 2. Foot never forgot to turn up at the Gandhi birth anniversary celebrations at Tavistock Square — a leafy park in north-central London that hosts a large statue of Gandhi seated cross-legged in meditation.