In the many weeks since Mr Modi’s visit to the UK was announced I have been approached repeatedly by people from both the Indian Hindu and Indian Sikh communities. Many people have conflicting views on the visit and my own are not simple.
Firstly it is important to note that I welcome any increase in cooperation with India, and always have. I was born in India and I have chosen to make my life in the UK, and so both countries are very close to my heart. It is nearly ten years since the last visit by an Indian Prime Minister to the UK and I believe it is high time for another. The Indian Prime Minister was invited to UK as the head of government of a strategic ally and of one of our most import global trading partners. As a democratically elected head of government, elected by nearly two hundred million people, I think it would be wrong to not welcome Mr Modi to the UK, it would ignore the will of the Indian populace and serve only to isolate Britain.
As the Chair of the Indo-British All Party Parliamentary Group I was asked to welcome Mr Modi to Parliament when he visits Westminster. I shall be in Sri Lanka with the APPG on Population, Development and Reproductive Health, and so I am unable to greet the Prime Minister on his trip to the UK, this trip to Sri Lanka was organised far in advance of confirmation of Mr Modi’s visit, and I could not rearrange it. The Indo-British APPG will be represented by our Vice-Chair and they will be part of the group which welcomes Mr Modi to Parliament along with the Speaker of the House of Commons and other dignitaries.
It is only through multilateral international engagement that we can raise concerns and resolve problems around the world. I do not think blocking Mr Modi’s visit to the UK, or boycotting events with him is the solution to issues that people have raised with me. Throughout the Prime Minister’s visit there will be multiple chances to raise concerns with him, and to discuss areas where cooperation has been deeply successful but also where it can be improved. Mutually beneficial progress will be the most productive way to assuage concerns that people may have, and to change practices we are concerned by.
Constituents have raised concerns about some events in India which they consider incompatible with its proud history of pluralism, tolerance and secularism. I share the concerns of some of my constituents, but I consider that many of the concerns raised are problems of perception and appearance rather than systemic issues. As I will not be able to meet the Prime Minister during his visit, I have written letters to both him and the British Prime Minister to raise concerns of mine and on behalf of my constituents. It would be wrong to give the details of my letters but I wish to assure my constituents and the Indian diaspora more widely that their protestations have not fallen on deaf ears.
India and the UK have much to gain from an enhanced relationship, but this is no longer the 19th Century and it must be a relationship based on trust and cooperation not exploitation and power. India has firmly embraced a democratic model of government, indeed it boasts the largest electorate in the world, 815 Million People, more evolution will come, but Britain will not, cannot and should not dictate terms. Through cultural exchange we will co-opt the best parts of Indian culture and vice-a-versa for both countries betterment and benefit.