Sunil Chopra, a Delhi born and UK-based NRI, is the first person of Indian origin who went on to become the Mayor of London borough of Southwark. Now a councillor in Southwark and a Labour Party politician, Sunil Chopra, on his visit to India, spoke to The Sunday Guardian exclusively about his journey, Brexit and fugitive Indians who flee to the UK. Excerpts:
Q: To begin with, from being a part of the Congress in Delhi to becoming a Mayor in Southwark. How has been the journey so far?
A: I left India after finishing my law degree in 1979. While In India, I was president of the Delhi youth Congress and was involved in politics right from the days of my college. But I left for UK to do more studies, but ended up getting involved in business there. I was also involved in community work in the UK in my early days. I still continue to do that. It was in 2010 that I was given an opportunity by a Labour Party MP and the then Minister in the British government to contest from Southwark in the local body elections. I always wanted to be part of politics, but then I did not have any platform, support or mentor who could guide me. This came as a shinning opportunity to me. I had filed my nomination from six different wards, but was rejected from three. I was selected from the fourth place and then elected. Ever since then, I never looked back, going on to be the Mayor of Southwark borough.
Q: The United Kingdom (UK) has recently taken a major decision on exiting the European Union (Brexit) and because of this decision, it is presumed that London, which is regarded as the financial hub of the world having a global status, would be affected. What is your view on this?
A: We feel that in the initial stages, there would be problem as people are confused. There are a lot of uncertainties and people do not really know what is going to happen. The Conservatives were also not sure what would happen and how people are going to react to Brexit, but whatever happens, we will have to accept it. I still believe that initially, there would be some issues, but eventually, it will all iron out. UK is such a stable market and people respect the law, the institutions and eventually businesses will come back. When you look at the other side of the coin, it is that UK will get business from other countries. India and UK will have more opportunities to do business with each other.
Q: As you said, UK is looking towards India and perhaps the Commonwealth counties. Pro-Brexit people also feel that UK would be able to strike lucrative trade deals with such nations, but, on the other hand, UK has adopted a strict anti-immigration policy where even students are not being given work visas. With these two contradictory positions, how do you expect the Commonwealth countries to support you?
A: I think the way India is progressing at the moment is phenomenal. We (India) have the voice now, we have the power and we have the opportunity where we can negotiate better terms for benefit of not only students, but for the whole business industry. Because things are changing and Indian children are very bright, we always contribute to any country we (Indians) have gone to and I think UK universities are losing a lot of money since Indian students have chosen to go to other countries. It will be good for the UK government to think and review their strategy, especially about Indian students.
Q: The UK has not been on India’s priority list as far as trade and business is concerned and India has expressed this directly or indirectly in various forums. How will you manage to convince the Indian government?
A: The Indian government will take decisions that it feels will be good for its citizens. I have full confidence in the Indian authorities, its intelligentsia and also diplomatic circles. I am sure whatever decision India will take will be good for its own citizens. I leave it to their good hands.
Q: We have seen in the recent past that fugitive Indians find UK a safe haven, like in the case of Vijay Mallya who has been in the UK since he fled India. Even Nirav Modi, who recently fled India after defaulting on a loan of over Rs 11,000 crore, is believed to be hiding somewhere in Europe. Why does UK look like a safe haven to them?
A: I do not think it is a safe haven, I think they find UK as their home away from home. The only thing is that, in UK, the law is very transparent and the justice system is very strong and fair. I cannot say why they find it their safe haven.
Q: Is the UK government in talks with the Indian government to extradite these fugitive Indians?
A: I think we have got an extradition treaty with India. These things take their own time and I think the UK government will pursue this matter with the Indian government and things will be done legally. The UK government is cooperative with the Indian authorities.
Q: So, are we likely to get back Vijay Mallya anytime soon?
A: Well it depends on how persuasive the Indian government is and how cooperative the UK government is, in taking this issue forward legally. I am sure that justice will prevail.