The Conservative Friends of India (CFI) hosted a roundtable at the Conservative Campaign Headquarters in London on 21 September. The CFI is an actively Conservative organisation that seeks closer relations between India and Britain for the benefit of both nations.
Amandeep Bhogal, Conservative candidate for Northern Ireland, chaired and opened the session by praising former Prime Minister David Cameron’s efforts at increasing UK and India’s bilateral relations. Bhogal introduced Lord Jitesh Gadhia, who in 2013 spent half a day with then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi. The few hours left him with a lasting admiration for the current Prime Minister. Lord Gadhia spoke about his experiences with Jim O’Neill, Baron O’Neill of Gatley, Commercial Secretary to the Treasury and former chairman of Goldman Sachs, who coined the term BRICS. Lord Gadhia said India had the most potential of all the BRICS countries.
Gareth Bacon, Conservative Member of the London Assembly, congratulated Bhogal’s tireless efforts for the improvement of bilateral relations and complimented Bhogal by saying he was a fine representative for UK, India and the Conservative Party. Bacon also reminded the audience that 27 Indian soldiers have been awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry in the face of the enemy.
Dinesh Patnaik, the newly arrived Deputy High Commissioner, made an impressive debut, confirmingthat five Indian ministers had visited London in the last two months and the potential for bilateral relations could not be better, but we were still talking about realising our joint potential. Patnaik said a great leap forward, unhindered by bureaucracy, was necessary to take trade links to a whole new level. He suggested that informal post-Brexit talks could begin in preparation for immediate action following the actual Brexit.
Sanam Arora, president, National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK, presented some of the problems facing Indian students regarding visas and proposed the introduction of a two-year post-study visa for Indian students.
M.D. Nalapat, Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian said Prime Minister Modi was sincere about transforming India, that the PM was a closet liberal who wanted the same freedoms in India as in the UK; that PM Modi had a vision of “Digital India” that would allow Indians to do everything online. He said that in the next six years, 900million people in India will be using mobile technology, but the Chinese were the only people who had recognised the potential of India. Nalapat was concerned that the West focused only on the 13% of the population in Kashmir, who were the troublemakers, not the 87% who wanted a peaceful, prosperous and united state.
Bob Blackman, Member of Parliament for Harrow East, was emphatically looking forward to reaching out to India as an equal partner, not as a post-colonial partner. He said, Brexit would benefit the visa situation for Indians. Blackman supported the Jammu and Kashmir as being an integral part of India and coming under the dominion of India. Blackman said Pakistan had illegally occupied the territory.