2018: A year when Indian politics played out in the UK
The year 2018 was one when Indian events and issues figured prominently in London making the British capital the host to a calendar of conflict similar to every day life back home.Updated: Dec 24, 2018 11:24 IST
Rarely have Indian events and issues figured so prominently in London as in 2018, when the British capital played host to a calendar of conflict similar to everyday life back home.
The Vijay Mallya extradition saga rolled on throughout the year, while the cut-and-thrust of domestic politics was reflected in two high-profile visits: by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in April and by Congress president Rahul Gandhi in August.
Strengths and challenges of Indian law, banking, prisons, politics and the media were closely examined during the Mallya extradition hearings, as the businessman used the media scrum outside the court to try and change the narrative that he stole money from India. The Westminster magistrates court recommended his extradition, but many hoops remain before it can happen.
On the diplomatic front, there was a change of guard in India House, when Y K Sinha retired and Ruchi Ghanshyam took over as only the second woman high commissioner since 1947 (Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit was the first).
One Indian issue that has long endured in the UK is the row over ‘Khalistan’, which figured during Modi’s visit, when the Indian flag was torn by a supporter; a rally in Trafalgar Square in August seeking a so-called ‘referendum’; and a senior Indian official prevented from entering the Shepherd’s Bush gurdwara in November.
In July, the Theresa May government brought the curtain down on the sensitive issue of enacting a law to bar caste-based discrimination. It decided not to legislate but to rely on emerging case-law courts.
The 1.5 million-strong Indian community is deeply divided on the issue, with influential Hindu, Sikh and Jain lobbies denying that caste-based discrimination exists, stating that enacting such a law would entrench ideas of caste where none exist, while several Dalit and other groups insist it exists in Britain.
During most of 2018, there were four Indian-origin ministers in the May government: Alok Sharma, Shailesh Vara, Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman (nee Fernandes), but Brexit-related concerns prompted Vara and Braverman to resign in November. Preet Kaur Gill was appointed shadow minister for international development.
Indian community continued to figure prominently in royal honours lists. Neil Basu was appointed head of Scotland Yard’s counter-terror operations, while Imtiyaz Shaikh, who hails from Vasco da Gama, became the first councillor of Goa origin to be elected to the council in Swindon.
For the first time, a Sikh soldier of the Coldstream Guards - Charanpreet Singh Lall - figured in the in traditional Trooping the Colour ceremony at Buckingham Palace for Queen Elizabeth’s birthday in June.
On Independence Day, Scotland Yard returned to the Indian high commission a 12th century Buddha statue that was stolen from Nalanda, Bihar, in 1961.