London: The Conservative Friends of India is an organisation that has a habit of putting its foot in it. On 7 November, members received an email inviting them to pay £10 to “Celebrate the Festive Season” on 26 November. It’s a different matter that 26 November, the date of the Mumbai LeT terror attacks, is not a date most Indians associate with a celebration.
On 25 June, Dr Rami Ranger CBE and Zac Goldsmith MP were appointed as the new co-Chairmen of the Conservative Friends of India (CFI). Ranger is the founder of Sunmark Ltd. (a specialist international marketing and distribution company) and Sea Air &Land Forwarding Ltd., chairman of the British Sikh Association, a founding member of the Hindu Forum of Britain, chairman of the Pakistan-India & UK Friendship Forum, a generous donor to the Conservative party and Twitter philosopher and self-publicist.
Via Conservative Home on 30 July, Jay Singh-Sohal, a director of CFI, proposed Ranger for the appointment of a dedicated trade envoy to India, someone who has “the connections and clout in both countries to prepare the ground for trade deals”.
In August, Baroness Verma, Conservative peer and former Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for International Development, resigned from CFI, reportedly for irreconcilable differences with Ranger.
In August, Ranger invited Rahul Gandhi to speak at a special CFI event, but then rescinded the invitation, which many found very peculiar. First, because Zac was not listed as the co-host, also because the INC are not exactly Conservatives and the BJP is UK’s democratic partner since joining the International Democrat Union (world federation of centre-right and right-wing parties) in 2016.
Ranger gathered together the Conservative Friends of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh on 13 September at the Sheraton Grand Hotel to celebrate the appointment of the Rt. Hon. Sajid Javid as UK’s first Asian Home Secretary. Tickets were £150 and Ranger’s guests included Chairman of the Conservative Party, the Rt. Hon Brandon Lewis MP, Dr Atul Pathak OBE, Zameer Choudrey CBE Chairman of the Conservative Friends of Pakistan, Bajloor Rashid MBE Vice Chairman of the Conservative Friends of Bangladesh.
CFI hosted another pay-to-go (£150) farewell dinner on Tuesday, 16 October 2018 at the Taj Hotel, London, in honour of the outgoing Indian High Commissioner, Y.K. Sinha. It was attended by Dr Ravi Gida, Anil Sharma, Lord Rana, Paul Scully MP, Bob Blackman MP, Mayoral Candidate, Shaun Bailey AM and the Acting High Commissioner of Sri Lanka Sugeeshwara Gunaratna.
Ranger is frequently quoted for speaking up for diversity. Asian Lite is especially fond of promoting his views. CFI was launched in 2012 by Lord Dolar Popat with the patronage of Lord Jitesh Gadhia, although this is overlooked today. According to the website, CFI has 19 directors, 3 vice-chairmen, 7 patrons and 3 advisors. CFI has some noble ambitions such as promoting values shared between British Indian communities and the Conservative Party and assisting British Indian communities to become more involved in voluntary and representative politics. But so far the organisation has not brought the average British Indian closer to the average Conservative. CFI are great promoters of bilateral trade.
Zac Goldsmith is only occasionally present in the publicity material and rarely dubbed co-host. Apparently Ranger is determined to be the dominant chairman. It does not take much imagination to imagine CFI as an elite business club. One can only hope for reform.