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Saturday, Aug 17, 2019

No shift in UK policy after Burhan Wani rally stopped, says envoy

The UK allowing several groups to hold events and activities perceived by New Delhi as “anti-India” has been one of the core concerns in the bilateral relationship.

world Updated: Jul 14, 2017 19:14 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
British high commissioner to India Dominic Asquith.
British high commissioner to India Dominic Asquith.(HT Photo)

The decision by British authorities to withdraw permission for the July 8 “Kashmir Rally” in Birmingham to commemorate the death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani after India’s strong protest did not signal a policy shift on events seen as “anti-Indian”, officials here said. 

The UK allowing several groups to hold events and activities perceived by New Delhi as “anti-India” has been one of the core concerns in the bilateral relationship, highlighted by India's note verbale on the Birmingham rally and a recent strongly worded speech by Indian high commissioner YK Sinha, who said improved trade ties in the post-Brexit era would hinge on London addressing New Delhi’s core concerns.

Dominic Asquith, the British high commissioner to India, told Hindustan Times here on Friday: “There is no shift in policy as I see it. The UK’s approach to terrorism and counter-terrorism with India has always been rock solid all the way. We have close collaboration (on this issue) across many strands. 

“This (withdrawal of permission) was a decision taken by the Birmingham City Council. A lot of focus was directed at the position of Burhan Wani. We are not changing our position on terrorism. It is exactly what it has always been: - strongly opposed to it.”

Asquith – the great-grandson of former prime minister HH Asquith (1852-1928) – said terrorism had affected Britain and India, and it came up in every conversation between prime ministers Theresa May and Narendra Modi, most recently at the G20 Summit.

However, he added: “There is a long tradition of freedom of speech, but at the same time there are constraints around enabling people to go around their normal lives and concerns about inciting violence. It is difficult to say which future events will be like this one and the official approach to them.

“There is always the concern to make sure that freedom of speech and incitement to violence do not contradict each other. The principles remain the same but the UK position with India on countering terrorism is stronger than ever.”

Asquith recalled Modi’s phrase “living bridge” that he used to describe the 1.5 million Indian diaspora, and said the bilateral relationship was more than trade or visas. Calling convergences between the two countries “touch points”, the envoy said a lot was happening at various levels than was known or acknowledged in official discourse.

According to him, criticism of Britain’s student visa system had more to with negative perceptions than reality. The largest number of work visas was issued to Indians in 2016 and India had more UK visa centres than any other country, he said.

After taking over the role in New Delhi in March 2016, Asquith said his interactions had revealed that there is an overwhelmingly positive view of Britain among the people than may be the case towards former colonial rulers.

First Published: Jul 14, 2017 19:14 IST

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