When Arun Jaitley ‘advised’ David Cameron on winning British polls
Being the finance minister in the first Narendra Modi government, Arun Jaitley represented India in at least two high-profile engagements in London and also found himself mentioned favourably in British politics before the May 2015 election.
A regular visitor to London with busy schedules, Jaitley was at the March 2015 event to unveil Mahatma Gandhi’s statue in Parliament Square, along with then Prime Minister David Cameron and actor Amitabh Bachchan.
He also led the Indian delegation at Buckingham Palace’s mega-event to mark the India-UK Year of Culture 2017, meeting Queen Elizabeth, besides engaging ministers on issues such as economy, trade and extraditing UK-based financial offenders to India.
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“We inherited a lot from the British and the ideas and institutions they left behind have served India well. It is a great tribute to British liberalism that they chose to install Mahatma Gandhi’s statue in the most prominent place (Parliament Square) in London”, he had said.
But his interaction with Cameron during the statue unveiling ceremony came up for significant mention in the House of Commons during a feisty encounter before the 2015 election, when Cameron led the Conservatives to a majority.
At the ceremony, Cameron was seen busy in conversation with Jaitley and Bachchan.
Days after the event, senior Labour MP Keith Vaz said: “I observed him (Cameron) in deep conversation with Arun Jaitley, the Indian finance minister, and Amitabh Bachchan, its greatest actor. Which man offered him the best advice for the next election?”
“Was it the person who presented a budget that will affect a sixth of humanity or an actor whose acting tips might well help the prime minister in the TV debates,” Vaz asked at a time when Cameron was seen to be vacillating on joining TV debates.
Rising to the occasion, Cameron replied with a smile: “It is quite right that Mahatma Gandhi stands there alongside Churchill, alongside Mandela in such an important square for our nation.”
“In terms of the advice I was given, these were all private conversations, so I won’t dwell too far into them. All I would say is that the new Indian government and the reforms that they are making, opening up the Indian economy will only make sure that the relationship between our countries becomes stronger still.”
Jaitley also figured in the ‘Neela hai aasman’ video produced by the Conservative party to woo the Indian vote. Visuals accompanying the upbeat song included Cameron shaking hands with Modi and unveiling the Gandhi statue with Bachchan and Jaitley.
Besides engaging in financial issues with the British government, Jaitley also marketed opportunities in India to British investors, addressed students and academics at places such as the London School of Economics, or interacted with members of the Indian Journalists Association.
Jaitley leaves behind a large network of friends and followers in the UK, besides journalists who interacted with him in India and in London over the years and decades. One of his contemporaries in Delhi University, Sunil Chopra, is a leading Labour councillor in the London borough of Southwark.
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