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Peer-edge for Modi’s ambitions

- Baron with Gujarati roots says cm deserves national projection

New Delhi, Feb. 19: Narendra Modi’s Delhi dreams just got a “lordly” push.

Bhikhu Parekh, a Labour peer with Gujarati roots, said the BJP leader “deserves national projection” and shouldn’t be singled out for “black mark” because of the Godhra riots.

In an interview to The Telegraph today, Lord Parekh said what happened in 2002 was “unforgettable” but the country had moved on despite similar flare-ups elsewhere. “I would forgive, not forget, the Godhra incident. But similar incidents have happened in Delhi, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. So why is Modi being singled out for this black mark?” Parekh said.

“I think high of him. He has shifted the agenda from religion to development. I think Modi deserves national projection.”

Asked if Modi could be a candidate for Prime Minister given his track record, Parekh said every leader had their limitations. “You are never going to get a perfect Prime Minister. Every Prime Minister, whether Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi, everybody has some limitations. But you have to make a choice.”

An academic of repute, Parekh was appointed a life peer as Baron Parekh in 2000, seven years before India honoured him with the Padma Bhushan.

While backers of the Gujarat chief minister can now claim “peer” pressure, the peer himself went beyond the current debate on Modi.

Parekh, a member of the delegation led by visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron, said the trip was expected to boost co-operation in trade, education and science and technology.

The yearly trade between the two countries is worth $16 billion (Rs 86,400 crore), with India’s exports estimated to be around $8.5 billion.

Parekh said there was a “lot of scope” for greater co-operation. “The British Prime Minister is accompanied by hundreds of businessmen and he wants to invite Indian companies to invest in the UK,” he said.

Cameron’s visit has also raised expectations among Indian students, who now have to find jobs that pay at least 20,000 (Rs 16.8 lakh) a year if they are to get work visas, according to a tougher regime Britain introduced last April. This has discouraged students from opting for Britain as a destination for higher studies.

In a speech today, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stressed on a visa regime to facilitate “greater movement” of people between the two countries.

Parekh defended the existing visa regime, saying the salary threshold was not very high. He said the British government would not limit student visas but foreign students should demonstrate genuine interest in studying in Britain.

Parekh said most Indian students were interested in taking up jobs in Britain after completing their studies, but it was not possible to employ every aspirant. “Jobs are not available in plenty. On the other hand, the Indian economy is growing and more opportunities are on offer in India. So people have incentive to come back to India where the middle-class population is around 300 million,” Parekh said.

Parekh argued for recognition of one-year master’s degrees from British universities, saying their quality was comparable to the two-year master’s degrees Indian universities offer. “In Britain, the one-year master is a full 12-month course. The students have to do a lot of studies and dissertations,” he said.

India and Britain have agreed on a compromise formula for the recognition of the one-year degree from UK universities by introducing a bridge course. According to the proposal, Indians holding the one-year degree from Britain will have to pursue a one-year bridge course at an Indian university.

Parekh said Indian universities lagged in research. “The amount of research done in universities has to be increased. Even the IITs focus on teaching rather than research,” he said.

No Indian institution figures among the top 200 ranked by agencies like the Times Higher Education, London, Shangai Jiaotong University or Quacquarelli Symonds, a company specialising in education and studies abroad.