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Exit of Priti Patel dilutes British Indians’ role in UK politics

Patel’s stint as the international development secretary lasted a little over 15 months.

world Updated: Nov 09, 2017 20:12 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Priti Patel,British Indians,UK politics
Priti Patel leaves after a cabinet meeting in Downing Street in central London.(REUTERS FILE)

It was a sacking dressed up as resignation, but Priti Patel’s exit from a cabinet post in the Theresa May government on Wednesday brought to an end the short tenure of the first Indian-origin person to sit at the high table of British politics.

Patel’s stint as the international development secretary lasted a little over 15 months. Before her induction in May’s cabinet in July 2016, the only other Indian origin MP to hold a senior ministerial post was Keith Vaz, who was minister of state for Europe from 1999 to 2001.

With Patel’s resignation, May is faced with another cabinet vacancy after Michael Fallon quit last week amid allegations of sexual harassment. She is expected to go in for a minor reshuffle on Wednesday.

After Patel’s departure for holding unauthorised meetings with top Israel leaders while on a family holiday– she blamed it on her “enthusiasm” – the only Indian-origin minister in the May government is Alok Sharma, the minister of state for housing and planning.

Patel’s appointment at the cabinet level was the high point in the history of British Indian participation in politics, even if there are mixed reactions in the community here and in New Delhi over community MPs upholding Indian interests in parliament here.

As May wrote to Patel, responding to her resignation letter, “You rightly take pride in being the first British Indian Cabinet Minister – a significant achievement, which follows your work as exchequer secretary to the treasury and minister of state for employment”.

“What Patel did cannot be defended, but her intentions were good. Her ambition to be party leader may have been dented temporarily but I am sure she will be back,” C B Patel, a community leader and publisher-editor of Asian Voice, told Hindustan Times.

“If May’s government lasts, they cannot ignore her for long. She acted like a good Patel woman and did not try to defend the indefensible. She was a bridge between Britain and India. (Prime Minister) Narendra Mod had a good equation with her,” he added.

Industrialist Swraj Paul added: “She is a great asset to the country. I am sure she will be active again.”

There are currently 12 MPs of Indian origin in the House of Commons. Patel was part of former Conservative leader David Cameron’s bid to win over the Indian community and was given the symbolic title of ‘Indian diaspora champion’ when the latter became prime minister in 2010.

Active in community and religious events, Patel, then as an MP, hosted the politically significant ‘Gujarat Day’ in the House of Commons on May 1, 2014, days before India’s general election that brought Modi’s BJP to power.

She was also in the forefront during Modi’s visit to London in November 2015, eliciting an enthusiastic response when Modi named her as he addressed the large diaspora gathering at the Wembley stadium during the visit.

Now outside government, Patel, a leading figure in the Brexit camp, can be expected to pile pressure on the May government as tortuous negotiations continue in Brussels over the minutiae of Britain leaving the European Union, expected by March 2019.

The Westminster grapevine is already buzzing with talk that the prime minister may find it more difficult to deal with Patel -who left Downing Street smiling after resigning on Wednesday-outside the cabinet than inside it.

First Published: Nov 09, 2017 20:11 IST