The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Visa hawk visit

New Delhi, Nov. 6: Hardline British interior minister David Blunkett, who initiated the tough visa regime in the UK that has affected Indian travellers along with nationals of five other countries, is scheduled to pay an official visit to Delhi in January next year.

This will be Blunkett’s first visit to India but he has already become known to many in South Block as well as outside it with his somewhat controversial stand on British visa rules to keep “illegal immigrants” out.

Figures have shown Indians to be one of the worst offenders in this as more than 2,500 Indian nationals were taken into custody while trying to get into the country as political asylum seekers while on transit visas.

Interestingly, Blunkett’s visit to the country will be followed within weeks by that of his political arch rival and British foreign minister Jack Straw.

The two ministers in the Tony Blair government have differed on almost all key issues, but their visits to Delhi in quick succession make India the gainer and indicate the deep and strong relations Delhi and London have built in the past few years.

The visits of the two ministers will be preceded by foreign office consultations between the two sides in Delhi next month in which foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal will hold wide-ranging discussions with British permanent under-secretary Michael Jay.

Although the consultations are an opportunity to have a free-wheeling discussion in which the entire gamut of bilateral, regional and other international issues could come up, the last meeting between the two was almost entirely dominated by the progress in India-Pakistan peace talks.

Indian officials are keeping their fingers crossed in the hope that Islamabad will not dominate the talks in next month’s meeting.

London has welcomed the recent measures offered by India to normalise relations with Pakistan. But it also wants the stalled dialogue between the neighbours to begin sooner than later.

Since the two sides signed the Delhi Declaration in January 2002, bilateral ties have been on the upswing. The regular interactions since then have helped them to broaden relations in economic, cultural and political areas of cooperation.

But whether or not India’s relations with Pakistan comes up during the foreign office consultations, it is bound to figure in a big way when Blunkett visits Delhi.

The British home minister is likely to be here towards the end of January — a few weeks after the Prime Minister’s visit to Islamabad for the Saarc summit.

Irrespective of whether or not he meets the Pakistani leaders bilaterally on the sidelines of the meet, the relations between the two South Asian neighbours is likely to figure in talks between the Indian leadership and Blunkett.

The fact that Blunkett, apart from being in charge of counter-insurgency, also looks after citizenship and immigration, makes it important to raise the issue of continuing cross-border terrorism from Pakistan and visa and immigration into the UK.

Although Indian officials are not too unhappy with the changes brought by London to strengthen its existing visa laws, they are hoping that Blunkett will not say anything controversial here that might spark a row between the two sides.

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