Tuesday, January 31, 2023

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Sunak addresses Indian diaspora, pitches for ‘changing’ India-UK relations as race for PM intensifies

New Delhi: Rishi Sunak, a candidate for prime minister of Britain, stated that he wants to change the relationship between the UK and India to enable simple access for UK students and businesses in India.

The former chancellor addressed the mostly British Indian crowd during a campaign hustings event held by the Conservative Friends of India (CFIN) diaspora organisation in north London on Monday night with a mixture of traditional welcomes including namaste, salaam, khem cho, and kidda. He even broke into Hindi: “Aap sab mere parivar ho (you all are my family).”

The importance of the UK-India relationship is well known. When asked about bilateral ties by CFIN co-chair Reena Ranger, he responded, “We represent the live bridge between our two countries.

“We are all very aware of the opportunity for the UK to sell things and do things in India, but actually we need to look at that relationship differently because there is an enormous amount that we here in the UK can learn from India,” he said.

“I want to make sure that it’s easy for our students to also travel to India and learn, that it’s also easy for our companies and Indian companies to work together because it’s not just a one-way relationship, it’s a two-way relationship, and that’s the type of change I want to bring to that relationship”, he said.

Regarding China, the former minister reaffirmed his position that the UK must mount a very strong defence against its aggression.

We must be aware of the fact that China and the Chinese Communist Party pose the greatest threat to our economy and subsequently to our national security in recent memory, he said. Be certain that as your prime minister, I will take all necessary measures to keep you, your family, and our nation safe because that is a Conservative prime minister’s first responsibility, he continued.

The former minister made a dramatic entrance at the Dhamecha Lohana Centre in Harrow to dhol beats and thunderous applause. After speaking briefly, he spent hours mingling with hundreds of Tory members who had lined up to shake his hand. Elderly people in the throng showered him with blessings, some gave him pats on the back, and eight-year-old Tanish Sahu took a particular photo of Sunak holding him in his arms.

A set of gold-plated deities were presented by Amita Mishra, a trustee for the Shree Jagannatha Society UK who travelled all the way from India. The gift is a particular blessing coming all the way from India, said Mishra, who was joined on stage by a pandit who sang a victory shloka from the Bhagavad Gita. We are planning to build a Jagannath Temple in London.

In stark contrast, a British Sikh Tory party member stood in line for hours to have Sunak autograph a special bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey even though both Sunak and the former Chancellor were abstainers. I don’t drink, but I received this as a special gift on my birthday, and now that it has this signature, it has historical significance, he said.

His self-described underdog status as the candidate who was trailing in all the polls didn’t seem to matter at this event as he sailed through the crowd like a rock star and responded emphatically to comments like, “See you at No. 10 Downing Street,” with, “That’s the plan, and I’m giving it everything I’ve got.” The majority in the room admitted that they had previously voted for Sunak online and had only attended this current hustings to hear him out again.

A doubtful British Indian investment banker expressed his indecision, saying he did not totally support Sunak’s management of the Bounce Back Loan programme implemented after the COVID-19 lockdowns, which many have “abused.” But even he acknowledged that Sunak might ultimately win his support because he wasn’t fully persuaded by leadership challenger Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.

The majority, however, appeared to be of the opinion that Sunak’s ethnic heritage and Indian ancestry had no bearing on the race to succeed Boris Johnson as leader of the Conservative Party and British Prime Minister. It is not racist in this country. Lord Dolar Popat, a seasoned Tory peer, stated that Rishi’s success shows that merit is appreciated.

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