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Business thicker than blood

- UK high commissioner calls himself ‘son of Gujarat’
Modi and (above) Bevan

Ahmedabad, Jan. 10: British high commissioner James Bevan has described himself as a “son of Gujarat” by virtue of his family origins in Leicester, a town he said had the largest population of Gujaratis after Gujarat itself.

Not to be outdone, Patricia Hewitt, who chairs the UK India Business Council, celebrated her Gujarat link by revealing that she was a member of Parliament from Leicester (West), indeed the first elected woman MP from the seat on a Labour ticket.

Bevan and Hewitt are here to seal and affirm Britain’s endorsement of Narendra Modi, courtesy the country’s “high-value” participation in the chief minister’s three-day investment jamboree, Vibrant Gujarat, which begins in Gandhinagar tomorrow. Modi’s version of the Davos World Economic Forum has attracted a British delegation of over 70 participants and 50 companies.

The show — advertised as a great place to work and network — is being hosted at an extravagant chrome- and glass-fronted structure named Mahatma Mandir after Gandhi.

Britain, which had declared Modi persona non grata after the 2002 communal violence in which three British Muslims were also killed, ended its boycott some months ago after the country’s foreign secretary announced the government’s intent to re-engage with the BJP leader. It was the first major endorsement for Modi from a western power.

The BJP was convinced that it was a “matter of time” before the US and the European Union would emulate Britain and do business with Modi.

But that has not happened so far. Germany stands as a wall of resistance between the commercial instincts of the other EU members and Modi’s eagerness to collect certificates of legitimacy from global powers.

However, the US and the EU’s opposition did not deter Britain from extolling Gujarat’s virtues and attributing its “success” narrative to Modi. “Gujarat has grown in importance, India has grown in importance,” Bevan said. Britain, he added, cannot have a “deeper” partnership with India without developing a “closer” relationship with Gujarat because of its “business-friendly environment and a strong entrepreneurial culture”.

Hewitt hammered home the point more forcefully in her joint media address with the high commissioner. “I visited Ahmedabad long, long ago. Ahmedabad has transformed in 10 years. I never thought I would see such astonishing growth. Gujarat has become India’s number one business state,” she said, encapsulating the resuscitated relationship in an equation “GB”.

“GB”, in this case, does not stand for Great Britain. “Gujarat to Britain, Britain to Gujarat, that’s how it is,” Hewitt said.

Asked if Britain had forgotten the 2002 violence, Bevan said: “It is very important that justice is done not just to the three British nationals but for all. By re-engaging we are more likely to secure justice for the three.”

Bevan had called on Modi shortly after Britain made up with him. He said he would meet him separately tomorrow as well.

Asked if he had raised the matter of the British victims, he did not give a direct answer. “I already had a good conversation with the CM that included 2002 and the death of the three British nationals,” he said.

“The CM assured me that the process of securing justice was under way. I expect to have a wide-ranging discussion with him tomorrow as well. It will not be right to go into the details of a private conversation.”

Asked what he thought of Modi as a prospective Prime Minister, Bevan said: “Britain will work with all democratically elected leaders of India. Right now, Modi is the democratically elected CM of Gujarat. It is a matter for the people of India to decide who they will elect as their PM (in 2014).”

On Modi’s third-time victory, he said: “The electorate of Gujarat has spoken in the elections. It is for you journalists and analysts to interpret the mandate.”

The British delegation consists of over 70 participants and 50 companies that include engineering, chemicals, infrastructure, health care and management services firms.

Additionally, the UK is hosting two seminars, one to promote skills and education and the other on technology transfer.


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