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Friends of Modi in Britain find ammo

London, Dec. 23: The British government will come under pressure to soften its hard line against Narendra Modi following his victory, senior members of the Gujarati community in the UK said today.

Modi may be the most controversial senior politician in India “but he is very popular among UK Gujaratis”, emphasised K.D. Patel, 73, a successful businessman, whose wife, Lata, was once mayor of Brent, a London borough with a large Gujarati population.

“If UK Gujaratis could vote, two-thirds would vote for Modi,” he added.

Many Gujaratis were up at dawn to keep track of the counting in Gujarat. Anil Pota, the general secretary of the Overseas Friend of the BJP, disclosed he was meeting his committee members to discuss details of a gathering at a temple in Ilford, east London, “to celebrate Narendra Modi’s victory”.

Unlike the US administration, the British government has not cancelled Modi’s visa but his trip to London in 2005 had to be called off when the authorities said they could not guarantee the chief minister’s “security”.

On a previous trip, Modi had received three standing ovations while addressing an ecstatic Gujarati gathering in Wembley, north London.

“I hope the British government now shows greater understanding of Modi,” said C.B. Patel, an influential figure in the Indian community.

He said that unlike the UK government, British businesses had recognised Gujarat’s vital role in driving the Indian economy.

However, the campaign to keep Modi out of Britain would be revived by human rights groups if he were to attempt to come to Britain. Three British citizens from Blackburn were killed in the post-Godhra communal clashes of 2002.

While the British government has a genuine distaste of Modi, the chief minister has a loyal following among UK Gujaratis. K.D. Patel puts their number at 500,000, C.B. Patel at 700,000, while others reckon the size is a more realistic 350,000-400,000.

The prosperous community has been increasing its investment in Gujarat and is impressed with what Modi has been able to achieve.

A significant proportion of UK Gujaratis came to Britain via East Africa where their forefathers had settled more than a century ago. But today, they and their British-born children are rediscovering “the land of our ancestors” and are proud of the progress currently taking place in Gujarat. To many, Modi has become the symbol of Gujarat.

Pota, who was born in Kenya and will soon turn 70, said the Overseas Friends of the BJP was set up in 1995 to offer hospitality to visiting BJP politicians and to organise meetings for them with influential local politicians.

C.B. Patel does not think that Modi would shift his power base from Gujarat for the next three years in an effort to play a bigger role on the national stage. “But he is only 57 so time is on his side,” reflected C.B. Patel, who is 69.

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